At area high schools, students promote unity, education for LGBTQ+

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Local high school students are raising Pride awareness through Gay-Straight Alliance clubs. 

Gay-Straight Alliance clubs are student-run organizations to unite LGBTQ+ and allied youth to build community and organize around issues impacting them in schools and communities, according to GSA Network. 

Fe Lentini, a senior at Cheshire High School, said it is important to educate other students about the issue.  

“I’m presenting to select freshmen health classes,” Cheshire’s GSA club president said. “It teaches them about the LGBTQ community, gender identity, sexuality, romantic identities and how to support those in the community.” 

Lentini offers tips to students and teachers on what she calls “acts of allyship” — such as asking someone what their pronouns are and how to respond when witnessing bullying. 

“When you feel like you don’t belong, it hurts and it affects you so much,” Lentini said. “So I want to make sure those kids know that they do belong.”

Maloney and Platt high schools combined their GSA clubs following the pandemic. Platt is lead by Bryan Sorak and Peggy Borrelli, while Maloney students are lead by Amanda Strom and Keith Lombardo. 

“At Platt, I decided to go with GSA because it’s a long standing club with national recognition,” Sorak said. “I figured it’s good to create a safe space to give our LGBTQ+ students.”

The clubs use virtual meetings to educate and discuss what students are experiencing personally.

“It’s helpful if there is anything I am questioning or trying to figure out about my identity.” said Brooke Montalvo, a club member. “These are people that have gone through what I’m going through and can help me.” 

The schools declared May “High School Pride Month.” Displays included little known facts and photos as well as books, movies and music anthems that reflect the community.

“Pride Month is about queer people finally being accepted more, celebrating their queerness openly and not be as fearful as they would have before,” Montalvo said. 

The Maloney group has other plans like a gender-neutral bathroom, while Platt is working on getting students to have graduation stoles to wear to represent their position in the LGBTQ+ community. 

Sheehan High School’s GSA club participates in “Ally Week” and “Day of Silence” to bring more awareness to the LGBTQ+ community. 

Peter Borzillo, Sheehan’s GSA club president, said students participating in “Day of Silence” go the entire school day without speaking and then at the final bell, they all gather to finally break the silence, which could be a collective scream or simply conversation. 

This day symbolizes how silenced members in the community feel and to give those not in the community a symbolic glimpse into their life.

“It’s less about trying to force our beliefs” Borzillo said. “We are just trying to promote an atmosphere where people feel safe and accepted.” 

Cheshire Academy offers LBGTQIA student clubs and groups on campus. The focus of the groups is determined each year by club members and student leaders. One year, they focused on pride through arts activities, said Julie Anderson, head of school. The club has also focused on other issues, including microaggression or how to garner support.

“Everyone is on a different place in their journey,” said Anderson.

Anderson said the school encourages language and norms that are inclusive. She cites examples such as using the term “partners” and “family” and not husband or wife or mom and dad. In another instance, students wanted a change to the dress code, to make it gender neutral. The protocol of girls wearing skirts or dresses and boys wearing blazers and shirts was changed.

“It’s really (about) listening and understanding how the world is changing, and how we need to be supportive,” Anderson said.

Joy VanderLek contributed to this story. 

fwilliams@record-journal.com203-317-2373Twitter: @faith_williams2

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