After twelve years of meeting on Saturday mornings, unrecognized as a school club, Euclid High School’s GSA was finally accepted by the school board as an “official” organization in 2017.
But this past year, the GSA was cut from the club roster, which then affected their funding.
School club advisors receive a stipend for the additional work of overseeing a club, but when the funding was pulled, co-advisors Libby Russo and Kayla Hunt continued in their roles on a volunteer basis to keep the club intact for students.
Co-Advisor Libby Russo (she/her) says, “I don’t care about the money, I just want them to be recognized as a club.”
GSAs provide important community support for LGBTQ+ students. According to GLSEN, students at schools with a GSA are less likely to feel unsafe due to their sexuality or gender identity, and they also miss school less frequently than LGBTQ peers without a GSA at school.
At Euclid High School, students needed this safe space and made it happen on Saturdays to avoid bullying and stigma. Now, the group boasts active participation from around 20 students each meeting (now held every other Friday after school). Though their club may have been “officially” cut, these students persist.
Seeking official recognition — again
The students will soon be approaching their administration to be recognized as a club again, but the group faces challenges due to a new school administration lineup as well as obstacles presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Zayda Stormer, a student at Euclid, describes their challenges with accessing the school’s principals and superintendent to address the recognition of Euclid’s GSA.
“We used to have open board meetings and we could talk directly to administration or campaign for our recognition. Now, you can’t go to the meeting. Because so much has changed — we got a new principal during the course of us going virtual — it’s hard to get to people and say hey, we still exist.”
The Euclid school board meetings are broadcast live on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month at 7:00 pm. Students can submit public comments in advance to be read and addressed at these board meetings.
Ms. Russo and the students remain optimistic as they’ve gotten to know their new principal. “Mr. Rudolph takes the time to engage with the kids in the cafeteria or after school, talking to everybody. He’s a really good principal,” says Jessie Demore, a Euclid student.
The teachers, administration, and staff at Euclid are largely supportive and respectful of LGBTQ+ students’ needs, especially when it comes to respecting transgender students’ chosen names.
Sam Carlson, a student at both Euclid High School and Cleveland State University says, “Deadnaming has been a big issue for me. For all of my Euclid classes, you can’t change your name in Zoom, so I have to go into all classes with my deadname. Thankfully my teacher uses the correct name, but just the fact that I can’t change my name on the Zoom calls is an issue in itself.”
Ms. Russo adds, “We can put a student’s name in parentheses to note their chosen name. Our secretaries are really mindful and supportive of that. They still have to find them in the system with their legal name, but giving the kids the respect for who they are is the most important thing.”
GSA’s challenges during COVID
Euclid High School’s GSA has met virtually during the pandemic, though students who are in school on Fridays may attend the meeting from Ms. Russo’s office.
The students at Euclid have had mixed experiences getting to know members virtually. Jessie says, “The hardest thing is getting to know people. When you’re in a virtual setting, a lot of the time kids won’t have on their cameras so it’s hard to get to know people.”
The pandemic has also dampened the group’s ability to engage as actively with the community. Typically, they would be attending conferences, leading educational panels, and engaging their school in Day of Silence and other LGBTQ+ days of note.
In prior years, the Euclid GSA attended conferences held by GLSEN, connecting with other GSAs from the greater Cleveland area.
Sam says, “Another thing that we did was Day of Silence, and we would try to get other people from outside of GSA involved in that. Before school started, during breakfast, we’d pass things out. But because of COVID we couldn’t do anything for Day of Silence this year, which was a challenge. We’ve had to forego a lot of traditions that we usually do.”
“The kids are the experts”
Perhaps most impressive is the fact that the students of Euclid’s GSA led a professional development panel for over 120 teachers last January. The students educated faculty about terminology and GLSEN’s guidelines for what teachers should and should not say when kids come out or explain their gender identities.
Ms. Russo was excited to announce to the students that they’ve been invited by Euclid Middle School to do another professional development session.
“Our middle school doesn’t have a GSA. The teachers there reached out to me,” says Ms. Russo, “but I’m not the expert. The kids are the experts. We’re just facilitating.”
- GLSEN offers a host of professional development and educator resources to develop an inclusive curriculum and participate in important days such as the Day of Silence and Transgender Day of Remembrance.
- Educators can start with easy indicators of inclusion, like safe space signs and pronouns in their email signatures.
- The most important thing an educator can do is to simply be there and be accepting. You don’t need to know everything perfectly to be the supportive adult that a queer student needs. One single teacher can be the difference between a student feeling alone and feeling like they belong.