ILWACO — As Zion Anderson stands in front of fellow Gay Straight Alliance members, there’s enthusiasm in the air.
“I have an announcement!” Anderson exclaims. “I got my license… so beware!”
A wave of encouragement comes forth, peppered with congratulatory remarks and laughs from other students.
The moment is just one of many in which club members bond together.
Twice a week, Ilwaco High School teacher Richard Glinert’s classroom becomes home base for the school’s Gay Straight Alliance. The club, in its current form since 2016, provides a space for students to be themselves, and participate in local activism.
“This club is something really important to have in schools. It’s important to have a safe space and not worry about feeling endangered,” said club President Will Murray. “I wanted that space so bad my freshman and sophomore years and didn’t have it.”
Mondays are known as ‘activism days,’ and Fridays as ‘social days.’ On Mondays, the classroom becomes a planning zone where students work on scheduling events and creating posters to educate their peers. On Fridays, the students participate in a more relaxed social hour.
“The club isn’t new but it’s just now gaining ground,” said Hunter Pollard, club advisor and IHS paraeducator. This is Pollard’s second year acting as the club’s advisor. Kelli Schimelpfenig, the club’s original advisor, suggested Pollard take on the role. Being the club’s advisor has become one of the best parts of his job, Pollard said.
“The LGBTQ community is something I’ve always been passionate about. I have a soft spot for people impacted by discrimination,” Pollard said. “When I was asked to be the club’s advisor, I said yes without hesitating.”
Education is key
Each year, students have used the group as a platform to educate fellow students about the LGBTQ community.
LGBTQ is an acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer.
“Education is needed,” Murray said. “A lot of kids have told me ‘I didn’t know a lot about the LGBTQ community until GSA came around.’”
Students aren’t all who have learned about the LGBTQ community because of the club. The club has also educated staff.
“Being the club’s advisor has taught me there’s a lot more going on with students,” Pollard said. “I didn’t know how many students suffer in silence. A lot of kids are lucky but a lot of them aren’t. But despite whatever they’re dealing with, they’ve shown they can still be happy, even if this space is small.”
During LGBTQ community events, education is especially important to the club.
In November, club members educated students for the Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day which memorializes transgender individuals who’ve been murdered. Transgender is an umbrella term used to describe people whose gender identity is different than the sex they were assigned at birth.
In April, students will participate in the Day of Silence, an annual event which recognizes those in the LGBTQ community who haven’t come out, or can’t do so safely.
“Basically, you don’t talk all day in honor of people who are silenced around the world,” Murray said. “It’s a silent protest.”
In June, students will participate in an annual field trip to Astoria’s Pride celebration. That same month, students hope to host a celebration of their own; Peninsula Pride.
“It’s been a long-term goal of mine to have one of the students lead the event, so it’s huge that we’re working on this in my second year,” Pollard said.
The event isn’t definite yet, but student officers will soon decide whether the celebration will happen. If it does, the celebration would give peninsula residents of all ages an opportunity to participate in Pride Month.