By Olivia Silbernagel, The Charter Features
The Gay Straight Alliance/Gender and Sexuality Awareness (GSA) club at ACA has had its share of controversy over the years, but that has not stopped the members from advocating for what they believe.
These issues have included: parent concerns, who oversees the meetings, how they can spread their message, and even what the club is to be called.
However, GSA club is not exactly a new idea in high schools; in fact, in Clackamas County alone there are 13 clubs at various high schools. This, of course, includes ACA as well as Oregon City High School (OCHS). ACA’s policies closely mimic those of the Oregon City School District, even down to snow days, and their policy on “creating safe and welcoming school environments for all students” is no different.
The GSA meets Tuesdays from 12-12:30pm in the art room (room 108) and was previously supervised by Anne Paris. Paris had to stop supervising “due to a personal life happening”, according to one of the students involved, Nicole Engelke, who is a Freshman this year. The club is currently lacking a teacher/faculty member to supervise their meetings due to this.
The GSA has begun calling themselves the “Gender and Sexuality Awareness” club as opposed to the more traditional “Gay Straight Alliance” according to Rachel Armstrong, a Junior, who was involved in getting the new club up and running. However, there has been no official name change, and there seems to be some confusion about what the club is actually called.
There have actually been two GSAs in ACA’s history. The original GSA was run by Jerika Fuller and stopped meeting after most of the members graduated, according to Danelle Till, the liaison for the Equity Committee. The new incarnation of the GSA was founded by Halie and Ian Sofich, with help from other students.
The school seems to have needed some form of support system for LGBTQ+ students, as Engelke stated that she has observed students feeling unsafe, “A while ago we invited Nic (Chapin) to a meeting to discuss the poster and reasons we need it (the reason was some students didn’t feel safe in the school).” According to Armstrong, and other students involved, the previous GSA’s posters were ripped down at that time and met with some other backlash from the student body and even parents. Halie Sofich says that they were “worried that students wouldn’t feel safe coming to the club.” She elaborated that some students even wished to be left out of the yearbook photos.
“…we had students leave the room during the yearbook photo. Luckily for us, there is a strong community here.”
The new poster Engelke is referencing is part of a push made by the GSA for their message of inclusion to be more visible to the student body. This seems to be necessary as Engelke feels that “Not many people really know about [the GSA] unless we tell them when and where [it is].” However, the poster in question has been an area of focus for the newly founded Equity Committee.
The Committee was founded at the end of last school year (2016/17) to “address issues that come up where people feel that what is happening is inequitable or unfair instead of just a few people in administration addressing them,” according to Danelle Till, the liaison for the Equity Committee. Because of this, as well as the previous controversy, the committee decided that they should have a role in the wording and content of the poster.
Till says it is “not about blocking the poster, but making sure it addresses any students who may feel unwelcome as well as the entire student population.” The committee feels that is important to create a poster that will make all students feel welcome and safe in the ACA community, and they have continued to work with the GSA to create a poster that makes everyone feel included. Halie Sofich also feels the same way about the club as a whole.
“There is no outright war on it, no battle against those students. The real fight GSA stands for is the one against in-home abuse and oppression.”
Ian Sofich feels similarly, “ I didn’t get a sense of hostility from any of the staff that I spoke with. Starting the GSA was just like starting any other club.”
Although the GSA may have some controversy surrounding it, those involved are invested in making sure that ACA is a safe space for all students who walk its halls. “Any student who does not feel like they have a safe place to speak, we want them to find it here. The goal is opening a conversation, and allowing those students to find support and resources that wouldn’t be available through their homes or church” says Halie Sofich, “…we’re all people- and that’s the real heart of our GSA…We’ll always just be kids and students.”
Resources for LGBTQ+ ACA students:
Megan Coggins (ACA school counselor)
The Gay Straight Alliance/Gender and Sexuality Awareness (GSA) club
Armstrong, Rachel. Personal interview. Jan 9, 2018
Engelke, Nicole. Email interview. Jan 10, 2018
Sofich, Halie. Email interview. Jan 29, 2018
Sofich, Ian. Email interview. Jan 29, 2018
Till, Danelle. Email interview. Jan 15, 2018
Oregon GSA Connect http://www.oregongsa.com/find-a-gsa/washington-yamhill-multnomah-and-clackamas-counties/ Jan 13, 2018
Safe and Welcoming for All Students http://ocsd62.org/welcoming Jan 13, 2018