It has been a whirlwind last few weeks for Rebecca Allie.
The 17-year-old senior at Zane Trace High School in Chillicothe, Ohio is balancing a full set of classes, a part-time job at the local custard shop, and participation in various extracurricular activities including Drama Club and serving as President of her school’s GSA.
It is that last role that has dominated a disproportionate amount of her time as of late.
“This is the largest GSA we have ever had,” says Allie.
With this great number of members has come some grand ideas for programming, including a full slate of events for Pride Week. At their first meeting of this 2021 school year, students devised 5 different events: Wear it Purple Day, Opposite Day, Icons Day, Equality Day, and Pride Day.
Allie said support from school administrators came quickly.
“We proposed it to Principal [Tyler] Wertman right away and he signed off on it,” says Allie.
Picking the perfect week to hold their full week’s worth of events proved to be a bit more difficult as schedule conflicts kept emerging, from an FFA conference many GSA students were attending, to Election Day, to Veterans Day.
Finally the week of November 15th was selected.
“We were prepared for this week and we were so excited,” explains Allie.
Allie says that posters were made and Principal Wertman allowed them to make an announcement on the school’s PA system last Friday, November 12. She then proceeded to go room to room to put up posters.
Later that day, she says Principal Wertman called her out of 8th period band.
“He told me he had received a lot of angry phone calls about Opposite Day,” says Allie, in reference to the day that would have allowed students to wear pieces of clothing other than what might be associated with the sex to which they were biologically assigned. “He asked if we could change it to Allies Day to appease people. I said that is 100% fine, because I really didn’t want people to be angry.”
Later that evening, while at her part-time job, Allie received an alarmed text from the GSA’s Vice President telling Allie to check her e-mail. In her inbox was a message from Principal Wertman under the subject line, “Pride Postponed.”
In the e-mail, Wertman relayed that the Board of Education had asked him to postpone Pride Week pending their consideration. He asked if the GSA would be willing to come to the Board meeting the following Wednesday to present.
“I was furious,” says Allie. “I was calling everyone I could think of trying to figure out what happened.”
When reached for comment Superintendent Jerry Mowery provided The Buckeye Flame with the following statement:
The Administration and Board of Education decided to postpone the Pride Week in order to address misinformation that had been spread via social media.
At the heart of the social media firestorm was a post by local parent Shawn Hanks, whose post questioning Pride Week set off a series of responses including, “What new level of stupidity and insanity is this?”, posts questioning whether Pride Week would allow male students to enter female bathrooms, and fears expressed that the school was not protecting non-LGBTQ+ students.
For his part, Hanks, the parent of an LGBTQ+ child, told The Buckeye Flame his comments were misunderstood.
“Pride Week doesn’t bother me in the least bit,” says Hanks. “But they announced it over the school system and the teachers distributed a hand-out. If the students want to do that, and they promote it organically, I have no issue with that at all. But the school just needs to teach and that’s it. As a parent, I just simply say, ‘School, stay out of it.'”
Attempting to ignore what was happening on social media, the Zane Trace GSA hunkered down to prepare for the Board meeting. Though there was definitely some nervous energy at the prospect of having to speak in front of the Board of Education, the public, and the local media, the students were determined to be heard. They put together a presentation, practiced it over and over, and showed up in force on Wednesday evening.
By all accounts, the students knocked their presentation out of the park.
Photo Credit: Justin Reutter for The Chillicothe Gazette
“Watching the students advocate for themselves so passionately gave me great hope and showed how resilient these kids are even in the face of adversity,” says Daniel R. Mathuews, creator of First Capital PRIDE Coalition, a local LGBTQ+ support organization. “Even though we did not have to speak a word, just being there in solidarity for the LGBTQ+ youth while they spoke their minds and hearts was a great privilege.”
Other than one local community member who came to the meeting to voice her dissent with LGBTQ+ issues being discussed in schools, the response from the public in attendance and the Board of Education was universally positive.
The Board ultimately agreed to allow the GSA to hold their Pride Week from November 29-December 3.
The positive outcome was one that advocates say is critical to the health and wellness of LGBTQ+ students.
“Schools have a responsibility to affirm their students and keep them safe. That includes respecting their identity, including them in conversations about identity, and supporting student-run organizations like GSAs,” says Amanda Erickson, Director of Education and Outreach for Kaleidoscope Youth Center. “Research has shown that the presence of a GSA has a positive and lasting effect on student health, wellness, and academic performance, can protect students from harassment, and improve overall school safety and belonging for all students.”
For her part, Rebecca Allie is just plain excited. Since she came out in 7th grade, she shares that she has experienced bullying, from being pushed into a locker, to being called “faggot,” to cyber bullying. This Pride Week victory is one she shares with her LGBTQ+ classmates, but also one that she celebrates personally.
“I’m just so relieved,” says Allie. “This is all nothing but positives and I’m excited for us all to celebrate together.” 🔥