GSAs covered lots of ground in California's Pride celebrations this year -- read the recap from your region!
Rain or shine, the LGBTQ communities of Fresno and surrounding Central Valley cities were determined to march the streets of the Tower District with PRIDE at the annual Fresno Rainbow Pride on Saturday, June 4th. As rain poured, organizations and entertainers held up signs reading "Gay and Proud" and much more. Youth and adults alike were excited to see GSA Network's enthusiastic presence at Pride, as Victoria N. Benavides, GSA Network's new Central Valley Program Coordinator, introduced herself to local LGBTQ and ally youth. Students and educators from various school districts stopped by to visit GSA Network's booth at the festival and were amazed to learn about GSA Network's resources to help youth build strong GSAs, combat harassment and bullying in schools, and lead peer-to-peer workshops.
Victoria was impressed by the passion of the Central Valley's LGBTQ communities to make schools safer. "Visitor after visitor," she said, "I felt more and more proud to be a part of GSA Network because I see the impact our resources and passion will have on Central Valley youth."
GSA activists were particularly excited to be part of the festivities at Fresno PRIDE this year. Clovis North High GSA leader Hilary Bandera shared, "Being a part of the GSA at my school has helped me learn a lot of information. We as GSA members learned so much about LGBTQ rights this year, and I am proud that I am a member of my GSA!" Other youth leaders also shared their GSA's accomplishments this year with Victoria. Linda Yang of Buchanan High School's GSA said, "We have a safer environment at my school now because of our GSA. We have a place or a club where you can feel accepted and that is hard to find here in the Central Valley." GSA Network could not have asked for more! Youth throughout the Central Valley are hungry for more information and skills, and GSA Network is excited to build on this momentum to create a team of effective youth leaders across the Central Valley changing schools and opening minds.
Staff and youth leaders were busy the following week at Los Angeles Pride held on Sunday, June 12th. GSA Network was honored this year to be the recipient of Christopher Street West's 2011 Outstanding Youth Award in recognition of our hard work training students to transform their schools throughout California and the nation! Youth leaders Isaiah Baiseri, Melba Martinez and Elliot Sitz, representing all GSA leaders, were able to proudly ride in a convertible of our own and wave to the thousands who attended LA Pride. In addition to honoring GSA Network, Christopher Street West, the organizers of LA Pride, supported GSAs by providing us with 300 free tickets to the LA Pride festival.
GSA Network's Southern California Program Manager Daniel Solis was very proud to see the hard work and leadership of LGBTQ and ally youth be recognized by the LGBTQ adult community. Daniel said, "I was happy and proud to see the recognition of these amazing youth leaders as the people who will transform our country and bring full LGBTQ equality. Every day across our nation, GSA activists are winning the battles that are changing our society, school by school. There is so much for adults to learn from them and I'm glad their hard work is being honored today."
Over 350 GSA youth leaders, GSA advisors and other adult allies marched with GSA Network this year, making GSA Network SoCal one of the largest contingents in the parade. Students were excited to march together as GSAs and show the adult LGBTQ community and the world that GSA activists are here and ready to make changes in our schools now.! Tess Urbs of Saugus High's GSA shared how excited ze was to be with so many empowered youth leaders. Tess said, "I'm excited to be here and expose the public to just how much youth empowerment and support is being developed in our schools right now!" Becca Contreras of Marshall High's GSA felt a strong sense of community at LA Pride this year. Becca said, "We are all connected as a community fighting in solidarity for not just our rights, but the rights of everyone that is oppressed. I feel part of a community being here."
Bay Area youth activists took to the streets at San Francisco's Pride Parade on Sunday, June 26, with tons of enthusiasm! As one of the lucky groups able to line up on the same block as Celebrity Grand Marshalls Olympia Dukakis and Chaz Bono, GSA Network youth were among the first to wave and cheer them on before they greeted the crowds.
GSA Network youth also dressed up as GSA Superheroes this year - with a broad diversity of cloaked vixens and villains ready to take on harassment and bullying against LGBTQ students. GSA youth and staff took their super hero duties very seriously, representing the fight for safe schools for everyone by shouting chants and encouraging parade watchers to support the fight for justice. Youth chanted in the streets, "What do we want? Safe Schools! When do we want them? NOW!" bringing in enthusiastic parade watchers to cheer and recite the words. GSA Network marchers performed guerilla theater along the route, persuading watchers to stand up for youth who hear anti-LGBT slurs at school by letting them know these words are against the law and giving them other options to express their feelings.
Youth from all over the Bay Area participated, including youth from Antioch High School, Santa Clara High School, and Washington High School. Youth passed out postcards and buttons to young people along the route that read "GSA Power!" These postcards gave youth information on leadership opportunities that GSA Network provides such as conferences, site visits, and leadership summits. Youth also passed out postcards to adults about the Make It Better Project's Write a Letter, Make It Better campaign. These postcards informed adults on how they can support LGBTQ youth by writing letters to the principals of their alma maters, encouraging them to make schools safe for all students.
Watufani Poe, GSANetwork Events Intern from Swarthmore College, commented, "Coming from Philadelphia, I was not used to Pride being such a huge citywide event. It was so amazing to see all the different kinds of groups coming out to show their support for the Queer and Trans community. I felt so much love during that day, and it is definitely one of the highlights of my stay in California!" Northern California Program Coordinator, Amanda Harris, said about the day, "GSA Network continues to lead the GSA Movement in developing youth leaders to fight homophobia and transphobia in schools. Pride just gives us a good reason to continue that fight in our queerly fabulous superhero fashion - spandex, masks and glitter!"