PSA on the GSA

New student group organizes to support and advocate for the LGBTQ+ students at AHS.

Photo+illustration%3A+Staff+around+AHS+remind+students+they+support+them+through+small+gestures.

Allison Berryhill

Photo illustration: Staff around AHS remind students they support them through small gestures.

Eleanor McCalla

In 1998, a spark of an idea in San Francisco swept through the United States, helping students across the country find support and raise awareness within their school systems. This network of school-based clubs, formerly known as the Gay-Straight Alliance, is now known as the Genders and Sexualities Awareness Network: the GSA. It took Atlantic High School 23 years, but it has its own GSA up and running at last.

According to the GSA Network, “Our youth leadership development model supports youth in starting, strengthening and sustaining GSA clubs to create school communities where all students can be safe from discrimination, harassment, and violence based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.” There are over 4,000 registered GSA clubs in 40 states throughout the country, and according to the website, “students continue to name their individual school-based clubs in a way that reflects the values and identity of its members.

Teacher Trisha Niceswanger talks with students about the possible projects the new GSA organization can consider.

On Nov. 3, Atlantic High School held its first GSA meeting in room 308 under the supervision of Spanish teacher Trisha Niceswanger and counselor Alyssa Dovenspike. “I would say there were maybe 16 or 17 [students in attendance], which was a really good turnout,” Niceswanger said. “I was happy with that.” The club plans to meet every Thursday during AO.

While the current iteration of the GSA club is a new development, AHS has attempted to start a GSA in the past. Dovenspike said, “We tried to start up a GSA, and we had it going. I think it started in January of [2020], so second semester. It was starting to go, it was getting a couple of meetings [in], and then I think when COVID hit, we had to kind of put it on a standstill.” The club did not make it through the pandemic, so interested students pushed to start a new one this year.

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I’m looking forward to hopefully making new friends and working together with everyone in the club to raise awareness for LGBTQ+ issues/experiences, as well as discuss ways to make this school a more welcoming place for those who lay outside the ‘status quo’.”

— Nolan Perez

During the club’s second meeting, students voted on leadership positions. Senior Nolan Perez was elected as president, senior Faith “Zii” Nath as vice president, and freshman Josie Molina as the secretary. The club also voted on a club name, although the new name has yet to be confirmed.

The AHS GSA meets in Room #308 on Thursdays during A-O. (Dakota Oswalt)

Perez said, “I’m looking forward to hopefully making new friends and working together with everyone in the club to raise awareness for LGBTQ+ issues/experiences, as well as discuss ways to make this school a more welcoming place for those who lay outside the ‘status quo’.” Already, Perez feels as if the club is making a difference within the school. “I’ve never felt safer about coming to school than I do now,” he said. Perez has felt discriminated against at school at times, however, “I have [my fellow GSA members] in my corner to make it easier.”

Already, students are looking forward to the things that the group will accomplish. Freshman Kayla Atkinson said, “I’m looking forward to being a part of this [club] and dedicating my time to another school group.” Atkinson was compelled to join the GSA because they are a part of the LGBTQ+ community, and they “[were] really interested in what the group does for the school.” Going forward, they think that the “GSA should strive towards reaching out and making sure people know more about us.”

The young organization is considering initiatives to tackle. The Ankeny, Iowa, Centennial High School GSA (called PRISM) identifies these recent projects on their website: “Activities include preparing hygiene bags for homeless youth, hosting Halloween movie night & dress-up day, attending GSA Con and the Governor’s Conference, and participating in the National Day of Silence.”

Junior Lillian Stufflebeam is not a member of the GSA, but she thinks the club is a positive addition to AHS. “I think it’s good that our school supports [LGBTQ+ students]. If we didn’t have [a GSA], I feel like there wouldn’t be as many people out there and happy with themselves. I feel like everybody would hide it.” She thinks the club will help people be more unabashedly themselves.

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I’m hoping it opens some people’s eyes to some things that the LGBTQ+ community faces, and that they realize we have individuals that identify different ways within this building.”

— Trisha Niceswanger

Niceswanger and Dovenspike both foresee a bright future for the AHS’s GSA. “I’m hoping [this program will change the school] in a great way,” Dovenspike said. “I hope that it’s a voice that people feel like they can [use to] be heard in [the] community.”

Niceswanger also hopes the program will bring about positive change within the AHS community. “I’m hoping it opens some people’s eyes to some things that the LGBTQ+ community faces, and that they realize we have individuals that identify different ways within this building.”

As the GSA continues to grow in size and impact, Perez believes that it will help many students, both now and in the future — including himself. “I feel more excited than I have in years to come to school and interact with my peers because now I see how not-alone I really am.”