Fatima Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) chapter president Cora Winkelman wasn’t sure how well such an organization would be viewed — or its members treated — when she approached Levi …
Fatima Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) chapter president Cora Winkelman wasn’t sure how well such an organization would be viewed — or its members treated — when she approached Levi Maxwell to form the group last summer, but she and VP Aiden Wildhaber agree it’s been very successful through the first semester.
“I wanted to do something my senior year and go out with a bang, and so far, it’s been great,” said Winkelman, who is not shy about her lesbian orientation. “I had heard about chapters in other schools and thought it would be fun to have a club to give gay and straight people an opportunity to meet and discuss different issues. Some of our members are openly gay and others have gay parents. Some talk about their experiences and others don’t.”
She added that straight members in the GSA have friends that are gay but the hope is that anyone who wishes to get real answers to questions about sexuality will join. “This is more than just about being gay or straight,” Winkelman said. “There are many identifiers and people view themselves in ways that others don’t understand. Everyone should be free to try things that make them happy, and no one should be forced to live an unhappy life. We want our classmates and people in the community to have a better understanding.”
Maxwell agrees. “I saw this as an awareness issue and it still is but I believe it’s one of those things that can be addressed through education and communication,” he said. “I never shy away from accepting everyone. I do my best to listen to every student that has a concern, and I will always fight for them, no matter what, and this is worth fighting for.”
Maxwell and Kathy Rolwes co-sponsor the GSA, a national LGBTQ racial and gender justice organization that empowers lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, trans-queer, trans, and straight youth leaders to advocate, organize, and mobilize an intersectional movement for safer schools and healthier communities.
Fatima’s chapter tries to meet once a month, though many times thus far members have relied on Zoom or group chats, and Winkelman and Wildhaber update information about club activities as often as possible. Information is also posted on the school’s bulletin board.
Wildhaber, also a senior, embraced the idea of the GSA immediately as an openly gay student. “I could talk to some of my friends about things but with the club, I can talk to a lot more people, and they’re all supportive,” he said. “I don’t care whether people accept me but this group is integrated in a way that shows other people out there that Fatima is not a school full of hicks. That’s how people see us a lot of times because we’re in a rural area.”
Winkelman agrees. “My core group of friends is colorful and we can talk about anything but not everyone has that,” she said. “It’s not something you talk about with random people. I felt a little ostracized at times but with the GSA, everyone is either like you or supports you, and that’s a great feeling.”
Fatima’s GSA chapter is open to students in grades 7-12, and Winkelman said it’s not unusual for younger students to identify as gay or as a different gender.
“The gay lifestyle is more expressed in the media and online, and with movies and television,” she said. “There’s a lot more information out there, and I think people are finding themselves as a younger age but in many cases, they don’t have any support, which is why GSA is so important.”
Winkelman wasn’t sure whether GSA would be accepted by the school but said there was no objection to her request to form the group.
“The school has been great with us, and we really appreciate it,” she said. “We have a lot of good kids in the club and our sponsors have been tremendous.”
Fatima’s GSA hosted a drive to help Jefferson City’s Rape and Abuse Crisis Center. Students and community members donated much-needed items such as laundry detergent and fabric softener, personal hygiene items for both women and children, diapers, canned food, etc., which were presented before Christmas.
Winkelman and Wildhaber said they hope the group will continue long after they graduate next spring.