LGBTQ+ Students Find Support In and Out of the Classroom

Mya Bochenek

Kayla Smith grew up in a very Catholic household where issues of gender and sexuality were rarely mentioned. Then, at the age of twelve, Kayla realized she’s lesbian.

When Smith joined the LGBTQ+ student group at her high school in Macomb, Michigan, she said it helped her work up the courage to come out to her family.

That doesn’t mean it was easy. As Kayla walked down the stairs to her parents in the living room, she worried that her parents wouldn’t accept who she loves. She explained how the girl they knew as her best friend was her girlfriend. To her relief, they were proud of her and even bought her a lesbian flag for her bedroom.

“It was a very heartfelt moment,” Smith said. “I don’t know what I’d do without GSA.”

For over two years, Dakota High School’s Gender-Sexuality Alliance has worked hard to provide a safe environment for students who may deal with bullying because of their gender identity or sexuality. Members of the group said it has helped with their self-esteem, friendships and relationships.

The group formed in 2017 because of the bullying experienced by LGBTQ+ students. It’s free and anyone can join. It meets in the lunchroom every Tuesday after school for icebreakers, group talks, and games. It also hosts events to raise money for the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, which works to end bullying of LGBTQ+ people.

During the pandemic, the GSA continued through Zoom meetings and online donations.

“After joining GSA, my grades went up, I felt happier and for once I had a solid group of friends.” said Brenden Honder, a rising junior.

Honder said he met many friends through GSA who showed him how to be confident in himself. This confidence allowed for him to share what he got out of GSA to peers outside of Dakota.

Students who spoke with The Terrier said GSA has given them the confidence to come out to their friends and families and helped them grow.

Rising sophomore-Alex Orzol is on a sports team at Dakota filled mainly with straight men and said he didn’t feel comfortable coming out to them before he joined GSA. Now he looks forward to team events without the worry of judgement.

“I no longer fear having my partner come out to support me and my team at our games,” Orzol said. “My teammates are so much more supportive than I had imagined.”

Kai Aman, a rising senior, is on GSA’s executive board. Aman said they faced harassment at school due to their gender identity. After joining GSA, Aman said they had the coping skills to get past the bullying and had an amazing support group to fall back on.

“GSA is full of all my best friends,” Aman said. “It is a family full of the best people you’ll ever meet. GSA has made me into the confident person I am today.”

The group has even saved lives.

Marissa Hendershot said she was suicidal before joining GSA because she felt no one understood or cared about her. The club helped her get through that rough time and allowed her to grow. She never felt obligated to come out to her friends,she said, but GSA gave her the strength to. Now because of GSA she has two best friends to talk to.

“I would be lying if I said this club didn’t save my life,” she said.

This story was originally written on the Boston Terrier.