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Student panelists consider countywide initiative to support LGBTQ+ youth in Anne Arundel

Cameron Langley, rising senior at North County High, speaks during the school system’s Let’s Talk Justice: LGBTQ+ Youth panel. - Original Credit:
Cameron Langley, rising senior at North County High, speaks during the school system’s Let’s Talk Justice: LGBTQ+ Youth panel. - Original Credit: (HANDOUT / HANDOUT)

As a way to centralize more support for LGBTQ+ youth and allies in Anne Arundel County, student panelists considered creating a county-wide Gay-Straight Alliance from the individual clubs at schools.

“You can’t fault a school for having a small GSA or the teacher for not doing enough. If you centralize it, you can do a lot of things there and have a bigger, more collective, voice,” said student board member Drake Smith.

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The possible initiative came out of the school system’s Let’s Talk Justice: LGBTQ+ Youth panel.

Similar to the first panel that tackled racism and discrimination in schools, the Monday night panel brought together students to talk about the LGBTQ+ community and what schools can do to support young people.

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The panel served as an educational platform for students like Cameron Langley, rising senior at North County High.

“As a transgender youth myself, I think it’s very important that our voices are heard and any opportunity I have to educate others or to just spread knowledge in general — I’ll jump at the chance,” Langley said.

The countywide effort was prompted by a question presented during the livestream.

Student panelists discussed the question with vigor, pointing out the benefits of having a school club turn into a county effort, as it could build off the established clubs to offer support to allies and LGBTQ+ students.

After the panel, some student panelists talked about the initiative in interviews with The Capital.

“It’s basically to provide a safe space for LGBTQ+ students who just needed a community of peers who they can trust and talk to about some of the problems they may face in the daily environment,” said Conor Curran, a student panelist and Chesapeake Regional Association of Student Councils president.

“We do see those certain situations where those microaggresions and other reactions play out and that’s something that we need to address as a county,” he said.

At Arundel High, the club is meant to be a place for all students to learn about the LGBTQ+ community, said teacher and club sponsor Xiomara Patel.

“All are welcome and it’s really a place for students to feel seen and kind of have that sense of belonging,” Patel said.

“Education is also a big piece of that. The club officers put together a little presentation for every meeting and brings everybody up to know — the history of our community, the important people in our history and the movement.”

If expanded into a county effort, Patel said the GSA club can also gain more consistency and similar standards so no matter which school a student is in, they can come to expect a set structure, comparing a possible initiative to the National Honors Society.

“It means the same thing in every building,” Patel said.

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The structure could also bring about more awareness.

All 12 high schools confirmed having a club that supports LGBTQ+ students, said school spokesperson Bob Mosier in an email.

Niko Haagenson, a student panelist and rising junior at Severna Park High heard little about the club that exists at his school with no knowledge of club members or the teacher who sponsored it.

“By having people who are like-minded people all together, it would create a better environment in the school as people who have experienced these issues will be more likely to come up with solutions,” Haagenson said.

Increased presence could also show more acceptance and reduce hateful or bigoted behavior, he said.

So far, the idea is still settling in. Smith said he will reach out to Superintendent George Arlotto to see how the initiative can be established as well as gain further information on expanding the clubs.

He also plans on reaching out to county LGBTQ+ groups for input on what a model of this nature could look like.

The format of the initiative will also be online as the school system moves to a virtual fall semester.

But having the club online could prove to be beneficial.

Camille Carter, a student panelist and rising senior at North County High, said hosting clubs online could help solve problems like transportation.

“I think it’s perfect that we’re asking to do this over like Zoom or Google Meets or Microsoft Teams because I think it’s a way students can all come together and virtually introduce themselves,” Carter said.

The digital environment can also bring some challenges as not all LGBTQ+ students may feel comfortable talking about the community while at home — a challenge Patel said they will work on with club officers.

The countywide initiative can also enhance safe spaces for students, a discussion talked about during the panel.

Feeling safe can directly impact a student’s ability to perform well in school, said Carter.

“If you don’t feel safe at school, you’re not performing well and you’re not putting your all into work — that creates a whole other slew of issues.”

If the club turns more into a centralized effort it could also help individual schools with funding, said Langley.

During the panel, students also discussed how to talk to elementary school aged children about LGBTQ+ community, adapting more inclusive curriculum and how to be a better ally.

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