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GSA stops visits to sophomore health classes

Gender and Sexuality Alliance members did not return to health classes to present on LGBTQ+ topics this year.

Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) leaders and members decided not to visit the sophomore health classes to talk about gender and sexuality due to the toll past presentations have taken on the students. 

Previously, except for the 2020-21 school year impacted by COVID, students in GSA visited each sophomore health class once per semester to present to the health classes during the human sexuality unit, in order to include the queer community in classroom discussion.

Former GSA leaders estimate that the presentations started around eight years before Mars Ray, class of 2020, became president of GSA in 2017. For Ray, the presentations were a chance to ensure the health class students were receiving correct information about the LGBTQ community.

“That’s something that we wanted to kind of address because [the health teachers] were not directly educated by LGBTQ+ people,” Ray said.

Although the content wasn’t altered much from previous iterations, Ray and class of 2020 co-presidents Sybilla Moore and Zöe Washburn worked to make the presentations more engaging for the sophomores.

“I felt like it wasn’t really going after the goals of really educating people that we wanted it to, and so we just tried to make it more uniform and make sure that people are actually engaging,” Ray said. “We also included the packet, just so that we can make sure that students were actually paying attention and listening, because you could very easily just sit through that one class and learn nothing.”

GSA presenters continued to use the packet that Ray, Moore, and Washburn developed, making updates yearly as needed.

“That packet includes a bunch of definitions and resources,” current GSA co-president Imogen Sharif said. “We just go through it in a presentation and we throw candy to kids who raise their hand and answer anything, even if they’re wrong, as long as they’re respectful.”

Throughout the years, the respect shown to student presenters has been a topic of concern for GSA members.

“There have been instances, especially with trans people…I was one of those people and I would get targeted a lot for just being out about my identity,” Ray said. “We didn’t want [trans students] to be harassed by their peers, either, because this could potentially bring attention to them.”

Current co-president of GSA Sylvan Prey-Harbaugh found the presentations caused stress, as he felt like he was representing the LGBTQ+ community, and was expected by the students to know everything. 

“Presenting in front of your peers on a topic that seems a little taboo and trying to teach them about it was pretty scary for me. You feel like you’re being judged,” Prey-Harbaugh said. “When you’re up there, everybody’s looking to you and expecting you to know exactly what you’re talking about.”

Although Sharif believes the information that was being presented is important for the students to learn, she also found the experience to be mentally and emotionally taxing.

“I think that we, as GSA, put a lot of effort into it without seeing a lot of results. And it’s really mentally and emotionally exhausting to do that. Not only to set it up, but to go in there and present,” she said. 

Prey-Harbaugh does not believe it is GSA’s responsibility to be teaching this material to the students, a sentiment shared by Sharif, leading to the end of GSA’s presentations this year.

.    We thought that the energy that took to make it happen outweighed the amount that people were actually learning from it, or the information that they were taking in.

— Sylvan Prey-Harbaugh '23 GSA Leader

“It took a lot out of us…not just to present, but to actually prepare for the presentations,” Prey-Harabaugh said. “We had to make slideshows, we have to make sure that all our information is correct, because it changes every year. We thought the energy that it took to make it happen outweighed the amount that people were actually learning from it, or the information that they were taking in.” 

Ray, on the other hand, found value in the student presentations, knowing that the health students were receiving an education directly from queer people.

“[The presentations] gave a spotlight to students who are very often unheard. This gives them an opportunity to help people hear [what] they want them to know,” Ray said. “And it gives people in the audience a face. If you’re not directly friends with queer people, then it’s very easy to just treat them like they’re not like just another student, very easy to dehumanize them.” 

According to Prey-Harbaugh, in meetings with the GSA leaders, the health teachers expressed that they think the health students find more value in learning from their peers than teachers, but Prey-Harbaugh disagrees. 

“I think we are respected way less when we’re standing up in front of them than a teacher is, because it’s the teacher’s job.” he said.

Junior Paige Trout found that the presentations last year expanded her knowledge of the queer community and thinks it did the same for her peers.

“I got to learn about a bunch of other different categories that I didn’t know were a thing before our sixth-grade introduction, but I think it helped strengthen other people’s understanding of the LGBTQ community. Not necessarily of the sex ed part,” she said.

This year, current sophomores did not learn about LGBTQ+ topics directly from GSA members, but a version of the packet that GSA developed was assigned to students.

“It was fill in the blanks, like, answer these questions,” sophomore Kelly Montague said. “You basically had to just provide definitions.” 

Although they did not return to present, GSA leaders hope to maintain a relationship with the health department. 

“GSA is willing to look over what the teachers have, but also we can’t present,” Sharif said. “That should not be our responsibility.”

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About the Contributors
Rhys Hals '23
Rhys Hals '23, Haven Happenings Editor
Rhys Hals is a senior and leader of Sunrise Club at Strath Haven. She enjoys crocheting, listening to music, and hanging out with her kitten in her free time.
Aïssata Koné ‘23
Aïssata Koné is a senior at Strath Haven High School! She recently joined Panther Press with the hopes of obtaining a hoodie! In her free time, she enjoys listening to music, making jewelry, and giving out free advice! Need some advice? Ask A&A!
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