New LGBTQ+ group highlights school-wide inclusion events

Samuel Singer, Staff Writer

Rainbow and Friends, the Middle Division (MD) alliance group for sexual orientation and gender identity Rainbows and Friends aims to foster a culture of tolerance and acceptance during  2018-19 school year, as a part of a school-wide effort to increase knowledge and respect for all identities, MD psychologist Christina Nichols said.

The group meets on Thursdays after school from 3:15pm to 4:00pm in the office of Dean of Class of 2023 Carlos Aguilar and offers students the opportunity to participate in activities that reaffirm their identities and provide them with increased self-esteem, Nichols said.

A student founded the group several years ago in an effort to “celebrate who we are as people in pursuit of helping our students develop healthy identities,” MD English teacher Jamie Brink said. It challenges biases while recognizing and empowering difference among students, he said.

“The agenda for the group is largely student driven and students have the chance to lead activities that they feel are powerful for them and their self-esteem,” Associate of the Office for Identity, Culture, and Institutional Equity Sharina Gordon said.

The founding and renewal of the group comes as part of a school-wide move to strengthen understanding and acceptance of all identities through multiple initiatives agreed upon by the school administration. “We try to make our school a place where students can be themselves and have changed our programs to reflect that,” Head of School Dr. Tom Kelly said.

The changes have manifested through increased openness and student leadership in affinity groups of all types, the strengthening of the Gender Sexuality Alliance in the Upper Division, and increased publicity surrounding sexuality and gender throughout the year, especially during Pride Month, Gordon said.

“The school has done so much for me in providing me with a voice and showing me through GSA and Pride month that I am not alone,” Janet Christian (10) said. “The changes the school has made have helped me realize that the community cares and does not want to leave us in the dark.”

“It’s been amazing to have the GSA in the Upper Division,” President of GSA Elizabeth Chung (12) said. “Even if all of the sexual orientation initiatives in every division of the school only help one student have more self-esteem and courage, it will have been worth it to increase their confidence.”

“The library has held multiple events for Pride Month and throughout the year to help students realize that the school is there to help them and increase their self-esteem,” Director of Student Activities Caroline Bartels said.

“One of the most formative lessons of my high school career has been to accept myself for who I am, and the affinity groups and initiatives offered by the school are a real credit to that,” Chung said.

In reflecting upon their past experience at the school, Rivers Liu ‘18 noticed “a trend in increasing respect throughout my years at the school,” they said. “When I came out as non-binary in my senior year, I experienced tolerance and acceptance that I hadn’t previously seen.”

“It’s been incredible to have a school that has supported me through coming out and sharing my identity with all,” Liu said. “I can only imagine the benefits of such a Middle Division group that allows students to go through that positive experience earlier.”

Noah Shapiro ’17 thought that “it was evident that the school made changes to support students struggling with their sexual orientations and gender identities” in his later years there, he said. “It’s fabulous that the school is providing such an opportunity to students, even in the Middle Division, to express and celebrate their identities.”