GSA helps PN embrace diversity

Malcolm Gaynor, Staff Writer

All Portage Northern students go through challenges and hardships during their time in high school. However, there are people who face significant and unique challenges that they must deal with. It is important to understand, recognize, and embrace the unique challenges and differences that diverse students face. The school community must work towards making changes and efforts to decrease and prevent bullying against diverse groups, and one group working to bring that reality to life is the Gay-Straight Alliance, or the GSA.

From left, GSA members Grace Beam (12), Lily Griffioen (12), and Emilee Erny (12) represent the organization at Club Fair. Photo by Kaitie Paynitch.

According to advisor and Spanish teacher Kaitie Paynich, there are usually between “15 to 20” students who attend the weekly meetings. Paynich mentions that the meetings consist partly of “social time so we can get to know other students who are going through similar things,” along with “ some sort of education” afterwards. GSA meetings are open to anyone, regardless of sexual orientation, and Paynich encourages anyone who is considering attending to come.

The GSA is an important part of the Portage Northern community because it gives support and awareness for people of the LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning) community. According to Paynich, at Portage Northern, “we (the LGBTQ+ community) have a lot of support.” However, Paynich also describes situations where students “come to me at the GSA talking about issues they’ve had with different people making fun of them.” She says that this bullying “definitely still exists on the student level.” The GSA is especially important for resolving these issues because, as Paynich says, the best way to help stop bullying is “more exposure and more knowledge,” of the LGBTQ+ community. This is because people are mean and afraid of others who are different because “we are ignorant of their lives and their experiences.” The GSA can help give this key exposure and experience with the LGBTQ+ community.

Senior Grace Beam is a student leader of the GSA, along with fellow Senior Lily Griffioen. Beam decided she wanted to be a leader of the GSA when she “realized just how many kids in our school were in the LGBTQ+ community and didn’t have a place to express their emotions about their struggles and triumphs.” As for her own struggles, Beam describes a time when she was  “severely bullied” due to her sexuality, which included a situation where she “had a homophobic slur spray painted on my car.” Despite this, Bean does say that “PN has already done a great job of opening up their doors to the LGBTQ+ community,” but could still improve some things. Beam recommends that “every student should have a trusted adult at this school that they can go to about anything.” Beam suggests students “find the teacher you are closest to currently or get along with the best and try to open up with them.” There are multiple ways to help diverse groups such as the LGBTQ+ community prosper, including making important student-teacher connections and maintaining visibility and exposure.

As Portage Northern students, it is important to gain exposure and knowledge about students who are diverse and different. This allows Portage Northern to create an open school environment where everyone feels accepted and respected. However, Portage Northern must always continue to work towards bettering our school culture and inclusivity towards diversity. Diverse students and organizations such as the GSA help give this key exposure and visibility to the important diversity groups of Portage Northern.