Friday, October 9th marked the first event of the Raymond High School Equality Club: a celebration of National Coming Out Day. Students hosted an information table at lunch to educate and answer the questions of their peers around the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer) community including the history of the Pride movement, LGBTQ rights, and how to be an ally. For Equality Club president, Maija Nordin, “it’s just all about awareness. We just want to make sure everyone knows it’s okay to be gay.”
Equality Club members created a Pride Poster displaying images of famous LGBTQ individuals and Allies such as Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, Michael Sam, the first openly gay man to be drafted into the NFL, LaVerne Cox, the first openly transgender person to be nominated for an Emmy, and many others. “In a small town, it can be hard for gay people. I think they can feel like they are the only ones. This is why we are here today.” said Megan Moilanen, Equality Club Vice-President. The students’ effort was mirrored in select classrooms, where a Human Rights Campaign video celebrating actors, athletes, musicians, and reporters from the LGBTQ community was shown throughout the day.
“I think this is definitely a topic that folks can be unsure about at first, so it was awesome to see such positive responses from students, teachers, and staff- from students running around with pride wristbands and Equality Club buttons to staff asking questions about the LGBTQIAAP acronym, I think the Equality Club students have done great work in opening the conversation around a charged topic in a really positive way” says Alyssa Grams, AmeriCorps member with the Teen Advocacy Coalition and volunteer with Equality Club.
Equality Club is a completely student-driven non-curricular organization that was created in March when a group of students approached Raymond School District School Counselor, Lyndsey Owen, about creating a social justice club to promote equality. Says Owen, “I had seen other clubs and gay straight alliances work at other schools and thought it would be a great way to promote a welcoming school environment here at RHS. The response from the students has been overwhelming. The Equality Club has over 25 student members and is still growing.”
But Equality Club isn’t just for the LGBTQ community, “it’s also for stuff like race, religion, and beliefs” says Moilanen. Student members drafted a mission for Equality Club that includes promoting social equality and a safe school environment free from fear of prejudice, harassment, or violence based on age, development, disabilities, religion, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, sexual orientations, indigenous heritage, national origin, and gender or non-gender status. Owen is excited about what the Equality Club is working toward, stating that it “promotes mental health, social justice, and a welcoming student environment.”
With a successful first event under their belts, Equality Club members are looking to generate even more involvement and buy-in both in the Raymond School District and in all of Pacific County. Says Moilanen, “We really want to encourage other schools to do something like this”.