It’s Wednesday, June 3rd, and for Cardozo High School junior Katya Gregg, something is occurring in the cafeteria she never thought would come to pass.
Her school is hosting an LGBTQ Pride Day.
Gregg, who helped form Cardozo’s Gay-Straight Alliance in January, had seen on the evening news images from rival high school Woodrow Wilson’s LGBTQ Pride Day — one of the country’s first public school-sanctioned Pride celebrations in 2013.
“I wished that we could have one like that here at Cardozo,” she says. And for an hour and forty minutes, Gregg got her wish, as part of the school’s basement level cafeteria was converted into a smaller scale version of the annual Capital Pride Festival, complete with lunch tables adorned with bright-colored tablecloths, banners, literature and goodies.
Behind each table, representatives from 24 community organizations, nonprofits or clubs, speak to students who pass by. School librarian Megan Reichelt has even set up a table, complete with a checkout scanner, where students can peruse books dealing with LGBT issues or featuring LGBT-identified main characters.
“I was worried that the principal wouldn’t allow a Pride Day at first,” Gregg says. “But she thought it was a good idea.”
Kuelah Simms, also a member of the school’s GSA, says the group has been trying to recruit more students — both LGBT and straight alike — to come to their weekly Wednesday lunchtime meetings.
“We always tell them to come as you are,” she says. “We accept you. We don’t judge.”
Cardozo GSA was successful in expanding the event’s reach beyond just those students who are openly LGBT. In the course of two hours, opening time, students from both middle and high school, as well as some from the International Academy on campus, stop by tables, skim literature, and speak with organization representatives. Some students have purchased black and purple Cardozo Pride t-shirts. An even larger number clamor for rainbow-colored wristbands selling for a dollar.
“I’ve noticed that there are a lot of kids walking through, getting information,” says Amanda Harvey, a social worker with the Department of Behavioral Health who co-runs the GSA. A flood of kids surrounds her, asking for wristbands. “They’re really excited to be here.”
Harvey’s partner in running the GSA, Chris Obermeyer, believes Pride Day is fulfilling a need that many people don’t realize exists. According to the 2012 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, over 15 percent of all high school and middle school students in D.C. identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or questioning.
“I think there’s a lot of need in this school,” Harvey says, when asked why she decided to help found Cardozo’s relatively new GSA. “When I came here at the beginning of this year, that was identified as one of the primary concerns of the school. We wanted to make sure students had a space where they feel safe, and a place where they’re just generally supported and cared for.”
Both Obermeyer and Harvey are impressed with the dedication of their GSA students to the club, especially in helping to plan Pride Day.
“They’re committed, they’re consistent, they come every week on time for our meetings,” says Harvey. “They’ve even requested to meet more often.”
Zouhair Almidani, a senior and the student body president at Cardozo Education Campus, came to the Pride celebration to show support for the school’s GSA, even though he is not a member.
“There’s more acceptance this year,” Almidani says. “I think it shows the students are open-minded, that they’re generally more aware of equality, and working toward slowly eliminating homophobia.”
The Pride Day also attracted students from outside of Cardozo, with a contingent of six students from the GSA at the School Without Walls accompanying their teacher, Charles Butler, a local LGBT rights activist.
“We sort of wanted to do something like this, but we’re a pretty small school, and it hasn’t been a big priority,” says senior Maija Kittleson. “So when Mr. Butler said, ‘Hey, Cardozo’s doing a Pride Day,’ we said, ‘Cool, let’s go support them.'”
The School Without Walls students add that it is important to them to support other GSAs because of the voice that such organizations can give to students.
“It’s about organizing,” says SWW senior Eva Dalzell. “We do DC Pride every year, we do other events, we raise awareness. It’s just so important to have something that is talking about LGBTQ issues and is there for LGBTQ students. I just think it’s such an important institution to have in a school.”
At a table across the room, Cardozo junior Dakia Chappell paints hearts, rainbows and other designs on the faces of her fellow students while another GSA member, junior Candace Wade, hands out multi-colored strips of paper. The strips bear a pledge for students to sign, in which they promise to be “accepting of all people, regardless of sexual orientation, gender expression or gender identity.” Wade collects the signed pledges and begins making them into long paper chains that serve as a symbolic show of support for the school’s LGBT students.
“I’m hoping this event will be a success,” she says. “Maybe if other people hear about this, it will influence them to have their own Pride Day.”
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