Ed Smith Students Find Solace and Support through Gender and Sexuality Alliance“We celebrate Black History Month and other marginalized groups… why don’t we celebrate Pride Month?”
An Ed Smith student posed this question to English teacher William Wright two years ago. It was a question that Mr. Wright said spurred action.
Fast forward to June 2022, when Ed Smith parent and PTO member Karly Grifasi received word that her grant request had been approved. Through the It Gets Better Project, Ms. Grifasi had applied for $10,000 in funding that would allow the school to form a Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) group. The student group provides a safe and supportive environment for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Questioning, Intersex and Asexual youth and their allies.
“Ultimately, I want to help affirm and acknowledge the different identities within our school,” GSA Advisor Mr. Wright explained. “Ed Smith has always been about inclusion, accepting everyone for their differences, and making sure they feel welcome. Expanding on that, I want students to be proud of themselves for who they are; and I want those who don’t align with or understand the LGBT community to gain a better understanding of what that means and to realize that everyone just wants to be accepted for who they are.”
Students are vocal in saying the group has given them a place where they feel fully accepted.
“I joined the GSA because I want to support other people so everyone can have the chance to feel accepted for who they are," 8th grader Lanna Howard said. "It’s important for the school to have this group because it gives people somewhere to go where they can be themselves and they won’t be judged.”
“I wanted to hang with others who are like me, and I don’t have a group like that outside of school,” 8th grader Constantine Torres Bravos said. “Schools generally don’t do a lot when it comes to LGBTQ representation, but we need more of it. This group gives us the opportunity to show people what we’re about.”
“The GSA accepts kids whose parents don’t accept them,” a student who wishes to remain anonymous added. “It makes me feel better. My family constantly belittles me for who I am. But here, I’m surrounded by people who accept me.”
Each month, the Ed Smith GSA meets after school in Mr. Wright’s classroom. In addition to hosting meaningful discussions, the group has enjoyed visits from the Q Center, GLSEN and other local groups that support school GSAs. They have even benefitted from the support of former Ed Smith students – now at Nottingham – who return to Ed Smith to serve as mentors to the GSA students.
The group participates in ice breakers and other activities to help them connect. They have made bracelets to express themselves, and they are working on a video essay project to show what it’s like to be LGBTQ+ in 2023, how to be an ally, and the importance of antibullying.
“We’re one of the most inclusive schools, but we didn’t have a GSA,” Ms. Grifasi said. “Students had been talking about wanting one for a while. As a PTO, we knew that having one would make our students feel more supported and safe. We met with students to hear what their concerns were and what they’d want to do to make the school more inclusive for LGBTQ students. Then, we wrote the grant. I didn’t really think we’d win it, but I knew it would enable us to get our wants and needs on paper so we as a PTO could drive something forward. This is a one-year grant, but ultimately, it provided us with seed money to get the group started and to help make the group sustainable.”
In addition to supporting the establishment of the GSA group, the It Gets Better grant also enabled the school to purchase age-appropriate books in the library that highlight LGBT identities; provide staff training, so school staff have the tools and terms needed to acknowledge and affirm student identities; and add ‘safe space’ signage around the school. The grant specifically includes a student-led aspect: 20 percent of the grant funding, $2,000, is to be used at the discretion of students!
We look forward to watching Ed Smith students thrive as they lead their school to become a more inclusive environment! Coming up on June 10th, Ed Smith students – led by the GSA – will be walking in the CNY Pride Parade. They’d love to have others in the SCSD community join them! To learn more, visit https://www.cnypride.org/pride2023.