Woodland GSA Celebrates 10th Anniversary

Woodland has always been a safe and welcoming environment for all students. With that, Woodland’s GSA enhanced this welcoming environment for the LGBTQ+ students. At GSA club meetings and events, LGBTQ+ members and their allies have come together for the past ten years, where they have worked together to make everyone feel safe and accepted. 

Each year, the club has grown and developed, becoming bigger and better. Although the club faced hardships and downfalls through the years, they inevitably came back together and became a well-developed, renowned club. 

In the early years of the club, GSA students struggled to find a permanent advisor, since teachers were loaded with other work and responsibilities. Because of this, the club slowed down, but an eager student, Theresa Gillette, worked with Meghan Hatch-Geary, who was an intern at Woodland at the time. The club was up and running during Gillette’s freshman year and she wanted to restart it. Geary took the club under her wing and got it back up and running again. 

“When Mrs. Geary did that,” Jessica Block, GSA’s current advisor, recalled that, “she actually came to me right away and said that they were planning this field trip [to True Colors] and that the kids would love for you to join us and be a co-chaperone.” 

Block was simply stopping into her classroom to grab her school supplies and say “hello” to the club when she was stopped with this question. At this point, she had no idea how long the club would resonate with her. 

After a while, Geary began looking into other things and began to spend her time with other groups around the school. Since Block had already joined the club at True Colors and she had been involved in other meetings, she was left with the chance to take over as advisor of GSA. Block has been the advisor ever since.

Since the club began, Woodland’s GSA went to True Colors annually and they watched the event grow each year. According to the True Colors website, “True Colors is a non-profit organization that works with other social service agencies, schools, organizations, and within communities to ensure that the needs of sexual and gender minority youth are both recognized and competently met.”

True Colors has been around since 1992, after Robin McHaelen founded the event for her senior project at University of Connecticut. Students in Woodland’s GSA always look forward to going to True Colors at UCONN, where they celebrate their sexuality and genders with like-minded students and GSAs from other schools.

Apart from True Colors, Woodland’s GSA always comes up with a goal for the year. 

“I always ask the kids in the GSA, ‘what do you want to focus our energy on?’ and they always want to do everything,” Block said.

The members are highly motivated to do as much as possible, but they eventually narrow it down to focus on one main goal. Each year’s focus differs from the next, from spreading kindness to bringing in guest speakers. 

In the early years of the club, one of GSA’s main focus was to spread kindness around Woodland. In 2013, the group created the Chain of Change, which publicly recognized kindness. On strips of paper, students around Woodland wrote down random acts of kindness that they performed and the chain hung around the library media center. 

“We’re all human beings and we all share this experience,” Block said. “So why not make it as positive as we can?”

In recent years, Woodland’s GSA focused their energy on new things and they have grown from just spreading kindness.

“Our initiative really has been awareness campaigns, bringing guest speakers, and inviting everybody [to events such as] movie nights, or things that would get people to want to participate,” Block said. “[We want people to] at least hear about [GSA] or see the bulletin boards outside the library,  just knowing that we’re here.”

GSA has not only continuously provided a safe and welcoming environment for those in the club, but also one for those outside of the club. GSA has hosted fundraiser events such as movie nights and a watermelon smash, each of which they invited students from outside the club. 

The watermelon smash, hosted in 2016, invited students from both inside and outside of the club to smash watermelons as a way to relieve stress as finals approached. After seeing the idea on social media and TV shows, GSA students set up the event and invited students to pay two dollars to smash watermelons and the proceeds went to GSA. Although this event was a smash amongst the students, it ultimately resulted in a loss for GSA. 

Between purchasing tarps and watermelons and the strenuous clean up, the event didn’t come back around for future years due to the high cost. 

“[It] was a little challenging,” Block recalled. “[Watermelons were] not in season and they’re not growing here at that time.”

Although the watermelon smash didn’t continue as an annual event there are still many others that have stuck around.

 GSA members annually participate in GLSEN’s Day of Silence. “The GLSEN Day of Silence is a national student-led demonstration,” GLSEN’s website states. “LGBTQ students and allies all around the country—and the world—take a vow of silence to protest the harmful effects of harassment and discrimination of LGBTQ people in schools.”

Woodland’s GSA opens up the Day of Silence to everyone in the school, so they can protest against the harassment found in schools toward the LGBTQ+ community. Sometimes the day falls on Woodland’s spring break, but each individual makes their own decision when it comes to if they will take the vow or not. Even if the Day of Silence falls on a day over spring break, GSA has occasionally changed the date for Woodland’s Day of Silence, so students could still take the vow and support the cause at school.

When the day arrives and students take the vow of silence at school, Woodland’s GSA organized a way to make it clear who is participating in the day to students and staff. 

“We opened it up to the whole school and [we] gave everybody a big card that said I’m taking a vow of silence and explaining why.” 

Another way to spread awareness amongst the LGBTQ+ community in the GSA is by bringing in guest speakers from Stonewall Speakers and GLSEN. 

“Stonewall Speakers, a program of the Connecticut Stonewall Foundation, Inc., is an all-volunteer speaker’s bureau comprised of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people and their allies,” the Stonewall Speakers website states. “The Connecticut Stonewall Foundation, Inc. and Stonewall Speakers strives to increase understanding, acceptance and respect for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people through educational outreach.”

Speakers from the organization visit Woodland and speak to GSA members about their experiences as a part of the LGBTQ+ community. Guest speakers have talked about their lives growing up in different generations or problems they have faced in their workplaces. 

Toni Cartisano, from Stonewall Speakers, spoke to Woodland’s GSA and talked about how she started the first wave of GSAs in high schools across the country, starting in Connecticut. She spoke about her challenges she faced while making the club. 

“We had [people from] not only from Stonewall Speakers, [but also] other groups too,” Block said, “that came in and spoke to us, whether it was about resources or tips for how to navigate when you are questioning your gender identity, or how to make yourself more comfortable if you’re dealing with gender dysphoria.”

The speakers share their stories and allow GSA members to realize that they are not alone in any battles that they face.

This year, Woodland’s GSA earned a grant from the Pride in Hills Organization, which will not only be used to bring in guest speakers, but also get the bus to the True Colors field trip and other events. 

After ten years of GSA at Woodland, the club has continuously grown and advanced to create the safest possible environment for students in the LGBTQ+ community.