Thursday, November 08, 2007

Gay-Straight Alliance happy to be a part of school's homecoming

Every now and then something in this area will happen that really surprises me - in a good way. Hence my surprise at coming upon this story in today's Virginian Pilot ( concerning a local GSA in Virginia Beach. You got to know some of the wingnuts over at Regent University are going bat shit!! Here are some highlights:

Marching band members beat drums. The color guard tossed flags, and girls wearing sparkling dresses and crowns chatted. Amid the commotion, members of Bayside High School's Gay-Straight Alliance prepared to march in the annual homecoming parade. "Let's go ahead and get the banners unfurled," teacher Veronica Salcedo instructed the small group. When Salcedo began her teaching career five years ago, she couldn't imagine having the alliance, much less one that would be included in homecoming festivities.

Now she co-sponsors a thriving student group that's a social outlet for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered students, as well as their heterosexual allies. At least two other Beach high schools have similar organizations. With Bayside's homecoming parade set to begin that Saturday morning, three students and a teenage friend from Chesapeake held up banners for the group.

"JUSTICE CANNOT BE FOR ONE SIDE ALONE BUT MUST BE FOR BOTH," read one sign, quoting Eleanor Roosevelt. Junior Heather Bozarth, 16, couldn't stop smiling. "I am just excited about everything," she said. At the cue, the group marched down Haygood Road, shouting "GSA!" as revelers waved and cheered from the sidewalk. Bayside Gay-Straight Alliance members were behind the band but led all other student organizations.

When Shannon Martin, 17, is among fellow members of Tallwood' s Gays and Straights Allied for Tolerance, or G-SAT, she doesn't have to worry about being bullied, she said. Shannon, a lesbian, remembers showing up at school one day wearing jeans decorated with painted-on rainbows. Another girl shoved her and told her "it" wasn't wanted at Tallwood.

The club is one gathering where the senior feels she belongs. "It's a safe place in our school where you can come, and we accept you for who you are," said Shannon, the group 's president. For her best friend, Amber Phillips, the club offers an opportunity to educate peers. Amber, 17, said she has been teased for her bisexuality since middle school.

Best of all, the club has created a culture of acceptance at Bayside, said Salcedo and fellow GSA co-sponsor Kimberly Barboe. "People don't really give me a hard time" for being a GSA member, said junior Ashleigh Hunt, 16. "I think Bayside is the most open school." Teachers and fellow schoolmates are accustomed to hearing the club's announcements over the school's loud speaker. Also, many nonmembers aren't afraid to attend alliance events, including open-mike sessions and yoga classes. "I think we're taking the taboo away," Barboe said. "It's not something you have to be quiet about anymore."

Maybe there is hope for Virginia yet.

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