By: Jessica Lemond, junior
Six years ago, a small group of students who identified themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ) at Holly High School gathered together, having only one thing in common: a feeling of exclusion in their community and a determination to stand against it.
Fueled by the desire to belong in their community, and with the help of Mrs. Hughes, now a teacher at Holly Middle School, these students formed Holly’s first ever-gay straight alliance (GSA).
“The beginning of the club was more of a social gathering and a place for people to express issues,” said math and English teacher Michael Rapin, who is the club’s co-advisor. “But now we are being more active by trying to contribute to school events and raise awareness. We’ve participated in anti-bullying days, Ally Week, and fundraisers for our club and other clubs like National Honor Society’s blessings in a backpack.”
Holly’s GSA calls themselves Common Ground and is known for their belief in equality for all humans, regardless of their story. “We try to contribute to the community and model how to be inclusive and respectful citizens,” explained Kerry Gargaro, science teacher and Common Ground co-advisor. Rapin added, “We would like to spread awareness, be involved in the community, and help the school be an inviting place for all.”
Recently, the Village of Holly voted 6-1 against a human right ordinance, which legally allows employers to deny jobs to people of the LGBTQ community, among other discriminatory acts. Because of this, Common Ground members are focused on spreading awareness for these people. “The council members of the Village of Holly could not have sent a clearer message that people of the LGBTQ community are not welcome here,” said English teacher Libby Held.
Common Ground hopes that in the school building, LGBTQ students feel nothing less than welcome.
“Homophobia is such a big deal in our community,” said Elise Martin, a junior and Common Ground Member. “Change is so important; we need to spread the word, not just in our school, but in our district.”
Martin expressed that she wants students to know that Common Ground is a safe place for LGBTQ students to go. “Some people get abuse both at home and at school, and they can’t escape it. They have no where to go. We want students who feel uncomfortable in their community to know that we’re here and we’re trying to help.”
This message of safety is especially important to Martin, as she identifies as LGBTQ and has experienced the pressure of unacceptance at school when she attended Holly Academy in middle school.
“When I came out in middle school, it definitely was hard; the academy was not very accepting. If someone was LGBT it was so rare for them to come out. At Holly, there happens to be a lot of LGBTQ students, and it makes me feel a lot more comfortable. But even still, there is the occasional remark from a student or adult that makes me feel uncomfortable or offended.”
This is exactly why Common Ground feels their mission is so important. Straight ally and junior Katelynn Farnsworth said that she feels people don’t often realize their actions can be harmful and that people like her can be there to educate them.
“I want people to understand that love is love and everyone has a different story,” she said. “I feel like people are putting others into boxes and no one ever fits into one box. It makes me think that maybe society is trying to make things all neat and organized and maybe that’s not the best thing.”
Keilee Grice, junior and Common Ground member, pointed out that she is just like anyone else. “I don’t feel different than any other person, whether they identify as straight or not; I just feel like myself.”
Because Common Ground’s purpose, as Grice would put it, is to “normalize being different,” Farnsworth is happy that Common Ground is focused on rights for all humans, whether they are part of the LGBTQ community or not. “The LGBTQ plus community is such a big part of society in general and because Common Ground focuses on rights for common people, it helps people realize that they are common people, too.”
Farnsworth is proud of the work that she and the other Common Ground members have done to educate the people of Holly, but she wishes that more adults were willing to speak out, too. “I hope that adults start taking teens seriously. We’re not all just crazy liberals,” she exclaimed.
“GSA isn’t about trying to prove that straight people are bad, it’s just about trying to prove that gay people aren’t, either,” added Grice.
If you are interested in becoming a member of Common Ground, visit room 109 on Thursday, 17th after school.