A student led organization from West Liberty High School (WLHS) found out they are being recognized for their group’s character at a convention in Des Moines next week.
Kelly Butcher, advisor for the club at the high school, was notified by email from Hilary D. Ortmann, at Drake University, that the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) Club was nominated for a Character Counts Award.
“While we didn’t win, we will be recognized at the award banquet on July 29,” Butcher said. “I am thrilled that the club will receive this recognition from the state and in our community.”
The pillars of character include: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship, she added. The GSA Club creates a safe, welcoming and accepting school environment for all students at WLHS regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Our GSA provides a safe supportive environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students as well as those who are perceived by others to be (LGBT) students, who are questioning their identity, have LGBT friends or family members or just care about LGBT issues,” Butcher said. “Our club is the definition of these pillars in action. Our goal is to foster a sense of respect, fairness, caring, and good citizenship among all of our members.”
Vanessa Vargas, graduated this past May, was the president of the club this past year.
She joined the club when she was a freshman.
“I was surprised that we were nominated because I didn’t know it was an award,” Vargas said. “It makes sense that we get it. We have a lot of kids with a lot of character. I think we deserve it.”
The GSA club has grown in size since Vargas joined her freshman year.
“It started off with 10 -12 members,” Vargas said. “Junior year was virtual so it was really hard to get members but my senior year a lot of the freshmen joined. It went from 12 students to 32 so it was a big jump.”
The club had to move from a classroom in the high school to the high school library, she added.
Some of the activities GSA were involved in last year included: the Pride Parade in Iowa City, getting education on suicide awareness during suicide awareness month pertaining to people who are in the LGBT community and the “Day of Silence,” Vargas said.
Vargas feels the younger generation is a lot more open-minded to how people identify themselves, which is why the GSA Club has grown in size, she said.
Vargas hopes students consider joining GSA Club or continue to stay involved in the club.
“It’s fun,” Vargas said. “We have games and we get along and we educate ourselves about LGTBQ problems and how we can step up and make it better for everyone.”
Butcher echoed Vargas’ thoughts.
“We know that LGTBQ students are at a higher risk of suicide, in part because they are more often targeted for bullying and discrimination,” she said. “Schools with GSA (clubs) are less likely to be discriminated against, have lower odds of suicidal thoughtand have fewer suicide attempts – regardless of whether they were gay or straight. It is important to have GSA in our school so all students have a safe place to come and just be themselves be accepted for who they are. Our club raises awareness and encourages allyship.”