The Gay/Straight Alliance at West

Houlton Dannenberg, Reporter

West Anchorage High School is fortunate enough to possess a GSA Club, or Gay/Straight Alliance, that promotes understanding and dispels prejudice amongst the LGBTQ+  (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and more) community and straight people at West.

West’s GSA is sponsored by John Ruhlin and Barbara Clark, both teachers at West who have supported the GSA from the beginning. The beginning, however, was very complicated. Clark, an English teacher, says at the very beginning, sexual orientation was not covered by the anti-discrimination policies in the Anchorage School District handbook. “There were meetings where lots of students showed up and lots of parents showed up and people who were opposed showed up, and our GSA kids testified about ways they were being treated and things that they had heard other kids say at school, and it was GSA’s students that helped get the policy changed,” she says.

West’s GSA is now a well-oiled machine thanks to both sponsors, but also because of the local leadership. Rion Iverson, a junior and the GSA President, has invested multiple years of her high school career into the Gay/Straight Alliance. Iverson has participated in GSA since her freshman year here at West. “I joined because I have a couple really close family members who are a part of the LGBT Community as well as some friends. It was just a really important issue to me,” Iverson says. As a lesbian herself, Iverson explains that once she came out, the GSA was a key support group. “When I realized I was gay, it [the GSA] was even more of a huge deal to me.” Recently, after years of participation, Iverson was elected president of the GSA. Iverson hopes that she is able to make the club a place where everyone is comfortable being themselves and helping the community, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Both Iverson and Jana Bryner, the 16-year-old vice president, have their sights set on the future. “We’ve started doing discussions once per month that will give context to various things involving the LGBTQ Community,” Bryner says. Last month, the GSA hosted one of these discussions, talking about homophobia and harassment. The turnout was quite impressive, with an entire room being filled with active discussion. However, a classroom may not be enough. Bryner goes on to talk about the lack of GSA membership. “I’d really like to see us grow a little bit bigger because our size right now is about 20-30 people that come every-so-often, but we only usually have 15 at one time,” Bryner says. The GSA also posts flyers and decorates the display case on an annual basis in order to spark high schooler’s interest to attend their Monday meetings. Hopefully, more people will begin to attend the GSA, so they can further accomplish their mission in the community: promoting acceptance and cooperation between people, regardless of their sexual orientation.

        The GSA meets every Monday at lunch in Room 14.