Life for an adolescent is challenging enough. Add to that an emerging question about one’s sexual orientation and trying to maneuver through society’s gauntlet of condemnation, harassment and abuse for being gay, and you have the ingredients for despair, exile and even suicide.
For two young Kent County students, Bryan Betley and Kirby Powell, facing discrimination in high school led them to reach out to other gay, lesbian and straight student to create a support network—the Gay Straight Alliance—and for that they were awarded a “Kids Who Care” grant from the Family and Community Partnerships of Kent County.
Rebecca Lepter at FCPKC said that one of the tasks of their organization is to identify and target the needs of Kent County youth, may they be in public or private schools. The Partnership has worked previously with PFLAG to fund youth projects and felt that Betley and Powell qualified for for the grant award.
Dubbed the “GSA Umbrella Krewe,” the grass-roots organization is designed to unite gay and straight, and youth and adults, to cultivate a support system and promote
Linda Dutton, board member of the Chestertown chapter of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) said that Kent County High School students approached her about trying to set up a support group in light of PFLAG’s work for marriage equality. “After marriage equality passed, we still had a mission to support other related issues, so we spent a year of strategizing with the students about the best way to approach the issue of gay discrimination in our area. Setting up an Eastern Shore network looked to be the best approach,” she said.
After some initial difficulties with how to define the organization’s mission to work with the school’s strict guidelines for club organizations, the GSA Umbrella Krewe started to gain traction. “We worked hard on that because we really wanted and needed the faculty on board with us. It wouldn’t work without their support,” Bryan Betley said.
“One of our goals was to create a safe environment within the schools. The students were pretty receptive and respectful of our goal and we think it has helped a dialogue that challenges bullying and discrimination,” Powell said.
Powell and Betley are currently students at Chesapeake Community College and continue to work on their networking project. “We want to see lots of small LGBT groups linked together throughout the Eastern Shore. A lot of them exist now, from Gunston to Washington College, but our strength would be in bridging them together,” Betley said.
“As an adult, to not talk about these issues is not healthy. Education is the key to confront closed minds, Dutton added.
For information about PFLAG see their Facebook page or call Linda Dutton at 443-480-3138.