For the first time in years, students and faculty at West Henderson High School have formed a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), with the intention to create a safe space for LGBTQ students across the school.
A GSA is a student-led organization that is found in schools across the country. The club’s main purpose, according to sophomore Damiana Hylemon, is for student members of the LGBTQ community to support each other throughout their own individual journeys.
“This is a club for you to make new friends and to talk about some problems you’re facing,” Hylemon said. “If you’re having questions about your sexuality or gender, or you’re just having questions in general about what we’re trying to do, you can always come and ask.”
West’s GSA was founded by Hylemon and sponsored by faculty member Julianna Stout. Due to a lack of student interest in the past, the previous GSA was disbanded, but has now been reformed.
“I think maybe there wasn’t as much of a need (before now), or we just didn’t have many students who are willing to stand up and actually take that role,” Stout said.
Members of the GSA said they feel it works as a medium for students to meet and make friends with people facing the same issues and to have a group of friendly faces in a difficult high school environment.
“Everybody’s so nice and they’re all so accepting,” freshman Hannah Decker said. “My favorite part is getting to know more people, honestly.”
Faculty members said they share the feelings of excitement from the students of the club.
“I love giving those students a safe space that they can just be themselves,” Stout said. “Because unfortunately, in the society that we live in, that’s not always possible.”
Although members have noted the benefits of the club, some students have been reported as disrespectful and have attempted to interfere with club meetings.
“Some students are not out, and by being part of a GSA, sometimes that does put them out there, and it unfortunately makes them a little bit vulnerable to bullying,” Stout said.
As of Feb. 15, the GSA has 25 total members. The club members and leadership hope to join other school GSAs for bonding activities in order to establish connections between students in different GSA programs.
“I know we’re going to participate in things in like the National Day of Silence, which is to raise awareness for the hate the LGBT people can receive and do fundraisers and other fun things,” Hylemon said. “Like, get together with the other GSAs from the other schools and do a pizza night or movie night.”
Although West’s GSA has only had two meetings as of Feb. 15, students and staff alike are excited to have a place to be themselves, and are excited for the future of the club.
“High school is hard because everybody wants to fit in,” Stout said. “When you’re different, that just compounds things. And that is, I think, the appeal of this club. It gives them place that they know they fit in.”
By: Emily Chambliss and Ashley Rich, Staff Writers