GSA Summit Coming to Methuen High ~ YE GAY OL’ VALLEY

By: Dani Langevin – Nov.2017

In April and June of 2018, the GSA Regional Summit will be coming to Methuen High. It is a safe schools program for LGBTQ students that is, “A joint initiative between Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) and the Massachusetts Commission of LGBTQ Youth.

Founded in 1993 in response to concerns about LGBTQ youth suicides and other risk factors, the program offers a range of services designed to help schools implement state laws impacting LGBTQ students, including the state’s anti-bullying law, gender identity law, and student anti-discrimination law.” In the current climate where the powers that be seem to be turning back the hands of time to when discrimination of this marginalized group was both accepted and expected, I believe this is a highly important program to come to the Merrimack Valley.

I spoke with Mr. Richard Barden, the principal of MHS, and Mr. Roger Lenfest, the History Department Head about what hosting the summit means to the faculty, student body, and community. “Having the summit come here takes down barriers. It’s outstanding for GSA students and letting our whole community that MHS is supportive of LBGTQ students,” said Barden. He continued by adding, “Any time you bring something in at the State level is a great opportunity for our faculty, students, and the community. “The time is good for us to re-emphasize that ALL members are important.” Lenfest said that he is, “Very excited for the summit coming to MHS. It plays into positive behavior and celebrating our diversity.”

As co-advisor to the GSA, I feel it is extremely important to make our LGBTQ+ youth visible, heard, and respected. We’ve come a long way in the past decade or so, but there is still a stigma attached to attending GSA meetings by the straight student body members. Our meetings aren’t as diverse as I’d like them to be. When asked why they don’t come to meetings, straight students almost always say, “I’m afraid people will think I’m gay.” This is disheartening. As an advisor to this group, I have to ask myself: where is this fear coming from and how can we change how they feel? I’m hoping that the GSA Regional Summit will provide some answers and help put to rest some fears and stereotypes. At the very least, I’m hoping it will educate those who know little about our community and start positive conversations.

I also asked some of the members of Methuen’s GSA to weigh in on the importance of the summit coming to Methuen. One student said, “It could be an opportunity to maybe induct new members . . . and give them a safe place to share their feelings and beliefs.” Why can’t everywhere be a safe place to share feelings and beliefs? Why does fear of condemnation or worse still keep so many in the closet or behind closed doors? Another member said they are looking forward to the summit because it means they, “Can learn more about what GSA is about and have more knowledge of the situations people might be in.” I agree, but my concern is that those who really need this type of education will not attend the summit. At this moment in time, I am satisfied that the summit is being held at Methuen High School and putting a much needed spotlight on the youth in our community that need all of our support.

In a perfect world, straight students and teachers would be just as interested in attending as are the members of the LGBTQ+ community. That is the point, isn’t it? Wasn’t this all created to educate the community in general of what it means to be LGBTQ+ and the challenges we face?

Shouldn’t there be an effort of all members in a community to make a safe place for everyone to share their feelings and beliefs without fear of judgment, retribution, and ridicule? For a short period of time, it felt as if the direction of this country or even many parts of the world were heading in the direction of embracing diversity.

Unfortunately, the leaders of this country are being very vocal about their distaste of and for the LGBTQ+ community. Making a difference locally is a good place to continue the effort to make all of us welcome, accepted, and valued.