Rainbows in the clouds: Gay students need hope | Johnson

LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) rainbow pride flag. - Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Fair Use
LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) rainbow pride flag.
— image credit: Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Fair Use

Recently, I had the honor and privilege to attend a GLSEN Summit. GLSEN stands for Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

Our state’s GLSEN chapter holds a summit each year, which provides an opportunity for Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) clubs from middle and high schools to gather and learn together. They provide a track for educators and other professionals to receive continuing education.

Federal Way High School’s GSA presented two workshops on writing poetry, featuring students performing original and powerful poetry slam pieces.

In addition, they hosted an open poetry slam event at the end of the workshop, during which students from different schools attended the event and showcased their original pieces, written at the workshop.

Federal Way High School GSA advisor Alex Winninghoff creates an environment where all students are welcome, and she uses her skills as an English teacher to challenge students to tell their stories, “making every word count.”

The results are poignant, raw, riveting and real. The students craft deep and invigorating expressions of their pain, exclusion and hope. As a result, they bond with one another, and find strength to deal with it all.

Support from adults is crucial for youth who live on the fringes of what is common. Nine out of ten LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning) students experience harassment at school. Sixty percent of LGBTQ youth feel unsafe because of their sexual orientation. And 30 percent of suicides are by LGBTQ youth, according to GLSEN.

Bullying today includes relational aggression, as well as “traditional” physical aggression. Relational aggression is defined by the Ophelia Project as “harming others through purposeful manipulation and damage of their peer relationships,” including things like spreading lies, ignoring someone or purposefully leaving them out.

When either type of aggression escalates, the target may consider harming himself or herself in order to stop the situation and pain. That’s why having a welcoming advisor, a GSA and organizations like GLSEN can literally save lives.

Another organization providing support for LGBTQ youth in South King County is POW!, which stands for Proud, Out and Wonderful. The mission of this group is to “provide a safe space for LGBTQ and allied youth ages 13-21 to build community and promote social justice through empowerment, leadership and advocacy in South King County.” POW! is directed and facilitated by professionals in the mental health field who identify with the LGBTQ and allied community. They provide support groups, service projects, and social gatherings.

Dr. Maya Angelou said, “God puts rainbows in the clouds so that each of us - in the dreariest and most dreaded moments - can see a possibility of hope.”

Go be a rainbow, people.


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