Where’s the GSA, PHS?!?!

Where’s the GSA, PHS?!?!

There’s been one question that’s been on my mind, and that question is: why is there not a GSA in Peekskill High School? For those of you who don’t know what a GSA is, it is an acronym for Gay-Straight Alliance or Gender-Sexuality Alliance.  This group support LGBTQIA+ people and their allies. In a time like this, we need a GSA in Peekskill High School more than ever. When homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia is on the rise, especially in a school, there has to be a group for support that isn’t just counselors.  It has to be with other LGBTQIA+ people and allies. We need a safe space in this school for all people, especially if the Trump Administration in the White House wants to try and rollback basic rights and protections for LGBTQIA+ students in schools.

I have found that Peekskill is an accepting school, but I have faced some homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia from students and even a teacher! It’s problems like these that highlight our need for a place besides a counselor’s office to talk about this type of problem. I’m thankful for not only my counselor for helping me through it, but also some of the teachers that I can confide in for advice and help.

According to The Trevor Project, “Each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average.” When we allow people to chastise and bully people in the LGBTQIA+ community, we’re allowing them to sign the LGBTQIA+ community member’s death warrant. People of all walks of life should not have to be chastised or bullied for being who they are, fearing for their lives, and trying to take their own. Every being of every walk of life should be loved, accepted, and valued as human beings.  All people should feel as equal as every human being in this world.

As I mentioned before, I have gotten some transphobic comments from students recently, with one of them being “The reason no one likes you is because of the way you dress.”  This implies that people don’t like me because I’m transgender. This really makes me upset that people, especially some students are limited to say things like that. A lot of people in Peekskill High School, as well as outside Peekskill High School, think that we need a GSA in our school as well.

Ms. Torp, the librarian here at Peekskill High School, says “I think that PHS should have a GSA because every group of students should have a safe space.”

Amy Nichols, a Program Specialist for WJCS Center Lane, an organization that provides services for LGBTQ+ youth and families in Westchester, says, “Peekskill should absolutely join the many Westchester schools that have GSAs.  Even in 2019, students in the LGBTQ+ community continue to face serious discrimination at school–whether overt, like slurs and violence, or more subtle, such the phrase ‘that’s so gay.’  Any use of language that assumes heterosexuality or binary gender, or the lack of LGBTQ+ representation limits us.

The troubling statistics about elevated LGBTQ+ youth depression, anxiety, and suicide rates are widely reported, but many don’t realize that, when in supportive environments, these students’ outcomes are virtually the same as their non-LGBTQ+ peers.  In other words, LGBTQ+ youth are not at risk because of who they are, but where they are. The good news is that schools have the power to be the safe and welcoming places that these and all students need!

Research has continually demonstrated that the presence of a GSA in a school leads to favorable outcomes for all students, such as a more positive and safer school climate, and for LGBTQ+ youth specifically, such as better attendance, higher GPA, higher self esteem, and lower rates of suicidal ideation, depression, anxiety, and substance use.”

Ms. Rios, guidance counselor here at Peekskill High School, says, “I think it is a good idea and important for schools to have a Gay Straight Alliance.  It is designed to give gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual individuals a safe and supportive environment, which is very important. Studies have proven that having a GSA results in a positive health, academic and social emotional impact.”

Mr. Arthur, principal here at Peekskill High School, says, “We need to hear all students’ voices and to create an environment to support all students’ needs. One of the different ways we have of supporting students is that we need to find an advisor and we need to write up a proposal and present the proposal to the Curriculum and Instruction Committee for approval. These are the steps to get a GSA in our school.”

Dr. Hannigan, English teacher here at Peekskill High School, says “A GSA would benefit our school culture as it would offer students an opportunity to talk, share and learn from one another.  I like the acronym for this club–(Gay Straight Alliance), as the organization isn’t limited. Instead, it is open to all students to join in an alliance.  A GSA would create a safe space for students to use their voices to share ideas and learn from one another.  Furthermore, students need positive role models to inform them of supports available as we explore realities that were once marginalized and even silenced.”

Kyla Black, Licensed Clinical Social Worker and LGBTQIA+ therapist in Croton, says, “Peekskill High School could benefit from having a GSA because I think it’s important that there is a safe, inclusive space for LGBTQIA+ students and faculty, as well as allies. I believe that having a GSA can help to affirm students’ genders and sexualities and to create more visibility. It’s important for the LGBTQIA+ population to have a space to be heard and to advocate for their needs.”

Amy Belfer, undergraduate researcher of LGBTQIA young adults at Elon University and in the surrounding community, says, “It is absolutely vital for Peekskill High School to have a GSA. GSAs provide a system of support for LGBTQIA+ students and help to provide a safe space for these individuals. According to a 2017 study done by L. M. Crother’s and colleagues, 55% of LGBTQIA youth in the United States have felt unsafe at school, 74.1% have experienced verbal harassment, 49% have experienced cyber bullying, and 36% have experienced physical harassment.  It is especially important to have a GSA under current divisive and inhumane policies and political rhetoric. I went to Lakeland High School and our GSA helped me to feel included and supported. A GSA would help individuals to feel more like they belong at Peekskill High School.”

Ms. Mannion, Social Studies teacher here at Peekskill High School, says, “We should have a GSA at Peekskill High School because students need a safe place to express their feelings. Students need to know that school is a place where they will be loved and nurtured, not judged and ostracized. Public schools are for all students in America, so all should feel welcomed and valued. Also, students who may not be familiar with what the LGBTQ community is about can go to these meetings and learn in a kind and peaceful environment.”

Mrs. Michel, a Spanish teacher here at Peekskill High School, says, “Over my 20 year tenure at Peekskill I have come across many different students from all walks of life. One of the groups that I believe has not been given as much support as it should is the LGBTQIA community. We all know someone who can benefit from having this group as a safe place to talk about how they are feeling and what they are experiencing. While Peekskill is a very inclusive and accepting school, young people within the LGBTQIA community would still like to have a group with which they can connect and learn about their peers and better prepare themselves for the future.”

I agree with everything that they all said. Also, a GSA would give students in the GSA the opportunity to go to PrideWorks, an all day LGBTQIA+ conference where they can go to different workshops about different issues in the LGBTQIA+ community. I had the pleasure of going there for the first time in my life, and I was most certain that I was the only person in this school who went to that conference, and I had such an amazing time. More information about PrideWorks and my experience there will be discussed in another article.

I would give a special thanks to all who have contributed to my article and for the love, care, and support all of you have given me. As Ringo Starr (aka Richard Starkey, Sir Richard Starkey, and Sir Ringo Starr) always says, “Peace and Love!”