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2 Healdsburg graduates leave behind a legacy of acceptance with hopes their mission continues

On the Healdsburg High School football field, June 10 not only marked a day when the class of 2022 said goodbye to the past four years on campus, but two graduating seniors would say goodbye to the club they brought back to life after it took an indefinite hiatus.

The former co-presidents, Molly Miller and Liam O’Gorman, left campus full of hope for their future and the future of Healdsburg High’s Genders and Sexualities Alliance, an on-campus organization they helped restart as sophomores in 2020.

O’Gorman, who was also the senior class president, identifies as gay and has been open about their sexuality since eighth grade. Miller identifies as bisexual and believes gender and sexuality are fluid and embraces the community’s spectrum.

“We needed a safe space for students to get together and lift each other up and meet each other,” said O’Gorman.

The two created a newsletter in the thick of the pandemic on Instagram, which lead to them finding a community of Healdsburg High students who then got together on Zoom and played games in a safe space.

“The importance of the club is that it provides safe spaces for the students, and educates the student body about how to be respectful,” said Miller.

O’Gorman, 18, said the pandemic and the LGBTQ+ community have a special loneliness that parallel one another. They said the pandemic exacerbated the isolation the students often felt.

Miller’s sister played a significant part in the creation of the original club becoming the founder and president.

“She wanted a safe place for people who might not have a safe place in their lives,” Miller said.

While Miller went on to say there were no big bullying incidents while she attended Healdsburg High School, she noted they had occurred in the past and said she felt the administration didn’t pay enough attention to the issue of bullying.

One could say, O’Gorman and Miller were complimentary souls in the club, which met every Friday during lunch. Miller would take the lead on educational issues and O’Gorman was strong with bonding and events for the alliance.

Art reminds students they have support

To raise awareness of the school’s on-campus Genders and Sexualities Alliance, students worked with the MAYO (Mexican American Youth Organization), to paint two murals at an indoor part of the school.

Spanish teacher Carolina Díaz, helped the students form a cooperative art group with Raizes Collective, a Santa Rosa-based organization with a mission “to empower and mobilize community through the arts, culture and environmental education.”

"I organized, but Raizes Collective put so much time in to make sure students have a place to express their artistic abilities, feel safe and release some of the daily stress they're faced with," Díaz said.

Instrumental in the art project was Raises Collective’s founder and executive director Isabel López, along with artists Martin Zúñiga, Lucero Vargas and Irma Rodríguez. Healdsburg High School student Bella Lynch, also a senior who recently graduated, created the design that was used for the alliance’s mural while others helped bring it to life with paint.

“The mural memorializes the club and allows the students to see LGBT pride on the campus. It makes the campus feel like a safer place and it was a real bonding experience, too,” Miller said.

When the students were done painting, Healdsburg Mayor Osvaldo “Ozzy” Jimenez brought cupcakes from his bakery Noble Folk celebrate the students’ hardwork.

“HHS LGBTQIA+ students need to be supported and raised up for their excellence. Still often many students in our schools face fierce bigotry, ”Jimenez said. “(The) mural not only represents our connectedness but celebrates our unique identities.”

The students can relate to the mayor, who is the city’s first openly LGBTQ+ Latinx person to lead the local government agency.

Forming a team of teachers, students

Students have two co-advisors to guide them with projects and help spread awareness of the LGBTQ+ community on campus.

Sharon Pollack teaches English and 11th-grade seminar, which is a college and career seminar and a a requirement for juniors at the high school. The seminars are aimed at having students explore careers they might want to follow and they are able to find an internship with a local business or professional to explore their chosen career. And Kay Rivers, Ph. D, teaches at Marce Becerra Academy, a continuation school located on the same campus as Healdsburg High School.

Both Miller and O’Gorman spoke highly of Rivers and the importance of having a fearless role model and mentor.

Rivers, who is gay, volunteered to help the alliance when she began teaching this last school year when Pollock asked her to be a co-advisor. Rivers has been a teacher for 25 years and volunteered for Project 10, which was the precursor to Gay Straight Alliances, in Los Angeles in the 1990s.

“Molly, Liam and Bella (Lynch) are the driving forces of the club,” Rivers said. Of Lynch, she said, “she’s critical to the program. She is an artist, designer and a leader, and those three qualities don’t always go together.”

The alliance was strong in numbers in the early part of the school year, with about 35 students attending meetings. Attendance tapered off with end of the year activities, but Miller and O’Gorman, have commitments from students to carry on with the alliance next fall. There is a Genders and Sexualities Alliance at Healdsburg Junior High, where a number of members will be attending ninth grade at Healdsburg High.

There’s more work to be done

One of the main objectives of Healdsbugh High School’s Genders and Sexualities Alliance is to educate fellow classmates on the harmful effects of bullying.

At the suggestion of Miller, and in collaboration with O'Gorman and co-advisor Rivers, the students decided to help educate students in 11-grade seminar on the effects of bullying and non-inclusive or biased language.

This meant O'Gorman, Miller and Rivers attended the junior seminar classes and offered their personal stories and perspectives about being LGBTQ+. They also answered questions the students submitted anonymously.

“We talked about the dangers of bullying and slurs, and answered anonymous questions the students had, as well as talked about internet culture,” Miller said.

She said the school will be adding an ethnic studies class for freshmen in the fall and she hopes the class will open students’ eyes on how to be more inclusive and respectful to the BIPOC community.

As the school year has come to an end, the school’s alliance members can be proud of not only all the educating they have done and their work on the mural, but they offered community for students to express themselves with.

O’Gorman plans to go to Cal-Poly San Luis Obispo where they will major in communications.

Miller, who graduated first in her class, will attend Stanford in the fall, majoring in engineering and plans to take the aerospace industry by storm. She plans to join the ACLU and will continue to work in advocacy.

On next year’s alliance agenda, the members want to change signs for two of the school’s bathrooms to be inclusive of students with diverse gender identities.

Currently, there is one on-campus bathroom that is gender-neutral.

The former alliance members propose to create one non-gender female, one non-gender male restroom that would accommodate all students in safe places. There would be two bathrooms each for men and women that would remain as they currently are. There has been no pushback against the idea and alliance co-advisor Rivers believes it will go before the school board in July or August.

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