Lillian Annabel Allen is approaching her senior year of high school in Savannah, Georgia. Attending a predominantly conservative school in the south, Lillian has been immersed in a culture where the LGBTQ+ community is looked at in a disgusting and “less than ''light. In the classroom, or at Cookout after a Friday night football game, or even amongst conversations with parents, Lillian as a member of the straight community, regularly witnesses, via the words of others and actions, homophobia in true essence. “Why do they think that it is okay to say such oppressive and hateful words about someone?” “What's wrong with loving whoever you want?? These questions, though may never be answered, have led Lillian here. The answer to me, Lillian Allen, is that those who identify as straight have the upper hand. We can utter slurs about the LGBTQ+ community; Label them as “weird” or “gross”, but that is only a reflection of our hearts. However, I believe that in the depth of each of these souls, lies a human, pure, and accepting of all beings, though has been influenced by their surroundings, which is, “southern” or “homophobic” if you will. From the perspective of a straight girl, a gay straight alliance, and most specifically, Ethan Scott’s, virtual GSA, is important to me because although I cannot feel the same pain in which those being oppressed do. I do however feel pain when six of my straight male friends, make a homophobic comment about an individual, that is no less human as they. I, like many, sit in silence and refuse to even entertain the homophobia around me. I don't engage in efforts to spare myself from the ignorance of others. But it is me who displays ignorance in these circumstances. For years I had this notion that because I am straight, I have no room to say anything or defend what I believe. It is with this discrepancy, that we are letting down so many people. The straight community cannot sit back while people of the LGBTQ+ are being blasphemed. Ignorance is not bliss. This platform allows us all to commune. Breaking from any past mold that your high school, church groups, or camps may have labeled you with. It doesn't matter who you are and I think that is what the entirety of this is rooted from is that no matter what your background is, let’s all come together, for what frankly is: the love of people.
Gabriel Woolmington is a rising senior at Friends Seminary in New York, NY. The school likes to label itself as an all-inclusive space, however, it often falls far short, and for many years the word “gay” was commonly used as an insult in the community. As a result, Gabriel never really considered his own sexuality because of his perception of what was “right” or “expected,” but he eventually came to recognize how much he was giving in to peer pressure and community norms. Once he started giving less weight to what others thought, he realized how much nicer it is to live for yourself, so to hell with other’s expectations. Although his school is admittedly much more progressive than many schools across the country, he has sadly still encountered many instances of prejudice in his community, such as one time when he got sent to the principal’s office for standing up to a bully who was mocking a classmate. As we transition back to school amidst “the new normal” of COVID, which will likely be detrimental to community-based programs and activist groups such as Gay-Straight Alliances, it can be easy to slip into losing touch with others and feeling isolated. Searching for a way to impact this issue, Gabriel came across the VirtualGSA website, and he appreciated their commitment to creating a safe, online space for LGBTQ+ youth, especially for those who have not had adequate support growing up. As we continue to quarantine away from others, online communities such as this are paramount and can supplement the in-person programs that will inevitably suffer, helping an unprecedented number of students.
Lauren Harteveldt is a high school sophomore at Greenwich Academy located in Greenwich, Connecticut. A jarring and eye-opening anti-semetic event during her freshman year history class principally inspired her directly to promote change through involvement in diversity work, particularly as it regards the ideology of allyship. Unsure, initially, of how she should act, and aware that there is much still to learn, Lauren first broadened her involvement as an advocate and a leader through her participation in the Greenwich Student Diversity Leadership Conference (SDLC), where she began to problem-solve solutions to systematic diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) issues. There she began to learn the importance of making a stand and encouraging change for the betterment of society, leading her to then participate in the Connecticut SDLC and the National SDLC. These conferences allowed her to create a web of allies with students from around the country, learning from their experiences to help her promote change within her own community. Already involved in two clubs, Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) and Jewish Affinity Club, Lauren wanted to broaden her reach and founded AspiringAlly (aspiringally.org) to raise awareness among youth and empower them to take action. AspiringAlly also aims to unite young people around the world through allyship by spreading awareness about the importance of diversity, equity and inclusion.
Family support and peer acceptance is critical to the health and wellbeing of all people, especially children and young adults, who identify as a member of the LGBTQA community. My brother and founder, Ethan, never had a defining “coming out” moment or a sit down family meeting disclosing his identity. Our families undercurrent of acceptance always has been; love is love. He was just Ethan, my brother, just as I am who I am. But, this isn’t every families journey. Unfortunately and confidently, I know that Ethan faces judgments and hardships as he walks through life. I can only imagine the angst that those struggling with their identity must face. Loving families and safe peer communities in a diverse and inclusive world is something we all deserve. It’s an honor to be an ambassador of this platform, it’s with great pride that I stand with Ethan as an agent of social change.