Hidden Rainbows to Vibrant Prisms
When I first started teaching at my high school, a parent complained about me to the school superintendent for telling my class that I had a wife. Teachers before me stood as hidden rainbows, afraid of what might come from being “out.” That was almost nine years ago, and times are changing (for the better)!
I never thought I would have the opportunity to be a part of an LGBTQ community of supportive students and adults like the group I met with this month. On March 7, 2020, 42 youth and 15 adults participated in the first Sussex County GSA (Gender and Sexuality Alliance) Leadership Gathering entitled Positive Presence. Not only did this gathering provide opportunities for networking and connecting with other schools, but it also enabled everyone in attendance to connect with their own feelings and emotions.
The morning began with the energetic and passionate Rev. Karla Fleshman. We learned the importance of positive presence and the “power pose,” mindful breathing, the importance of telling one’s story, and the impact of self-talk. Both students and adults joined in various exercises to increase self-confidence and recognize the power of how we talk to ourselves. Students are not the only ones who struggle with negative thoughts, anxiety, and doubt; this session brought everyone together as a supportive community and set the tone for the day.
After the morning session and a tasty lunch, the youth and adults broke up into two groups. Students were led by speaker, Emily Falcone, on the topic of relationships. One of my own GSA members asked me to share her PowerPoint of valuable information with our members who could not attend.
While the students learned about healthy relationships, advisors had the opportunity to meet with Rev. Fleshman in a room upstairs. It was uplifting to be in a room with every person focused on the same beliefs and goals, Some chose to share their own stories, ask questions, and create a plan for what our schools can do to support both LGBTQ staff and students. We discussed best practices and what has worked in various schools, but also new ideas—for example, can we provide cords for our seniors for their graduation caps? We all left the session feeling a sense of unity; although we are located throughout the state, we have the ability to use each other as resources to improve the lives of our students.
As our day moved towards the end, students united in a session with the radiant shaman and healer, Athena Allread. Students participated in an intimate discussion with Athena, and then she led creative and fun mirroring exercises. I was concerned about one of my shyer GSA members at first, but Athena coupled each pair and it was clear she had a knack for both channeling energy and determining comfort levels of those around her. Laughter and giggles filled the room, but most importantly, students connected with their own thoughts and emotions through these guided movements.
To close our inspiring day, the brave and charismatic “Ms. P” wowed the audience with a drag performance! It was truly refreshing to be surrounded by so many motivating and uplifting people. This was just the first of many events I hope I can attend with this group of people. I have experienced many things being an openly gay teacher, but I do feel that things are improving in our LGBTQ family— while we once stood as hidden rainbows, we are now confident and vibrant prisms in our community.
A special thank you to the Milton Theatre for hosting, the American Lung Association and Wawa Foundation for supporting, and all the volunteers, speakers, and school advisors that made this event possible! Additionally, thank you to CAMP Rehoboth for creating this monumental event for our youth and becoming the glue to bond us all together.
Ms. Emily Villa teaches English and is the GSA (Gender & Sexuality Alliance) advisor at Lake Forest High School.