Note: This is a series of interviews with past and present members of Union County High School’s Gay Straight Alliance. If you would like to read the first post about the GSA’s troubles, go here. For a recap of the school board meeting June 23, go here. The school board did not rehire GSA teacher sponsor Chris Richeson, but it did formally affirm the GSA’s right to exist at UCHS.
Artemis (not her real name) asked me to keep her identity a secret. She is an asexual demigirl who can go by both the she/her and they/them pronouns and is a rising junior at Union County High School.
Artemis says she does not like to talk about her gender, revealing it only to her closest friends. She said students at Union County High School didn’t talk about gender and sexuality much until same-sex marriage was legalized. A couple of her friends came out to her in her freshman year. Then, in her sophomore year, LGBTQ rights started coming up more and more.
She considered coming out publicly, but after the events of Spring 2016, she’s not so sure.
“I’m not really concerned about my own safety since I wasn’t able to be open last year,” she said. “Not a lot of people know about me. I was hoping to be different this year, since I knew there would be people supporting me, but it may not change. I’m more concerned about the other members’ and my friends’ safety.”
Her first knowledge of Chris Richeson came through the grapevine when a friend took his psychology class.
“They always talked about how he was a great teacher and how he helped students with problems like anxiety or bullying,” Artemis said. “This made me want to sign up next year.”
Artemis didn’t join the GSA until March 2016, when tensions mounted among UCHS students about posters for a GSA showing of the movie “Philadelphia.”
“It infuriated me that they couldn’t even hang up posters like other clubs,” she said. “I found it incredibly unfair that we couldn’t do basic activities like other clubs without getting pushed around.”
She went on to create art for the GSA, and it angered her that students would tear down other students’ work. She is also concerned over the possibility that the GSA might not be available next year. Although the school board affirmed the club’s right to exist, no teacher sponsor is forthcoming yet.
“It still angers me that a place that I dedicated so much time to because I had more freedom to speak there than my own home might be gone,” she said. “I also wanted to take (Richeson’s) philosophy class with a couple of my friends, but when we tried signing up they told us it was getting replaced by a football class, which I do not find useful at all to most of the students at our high school.
“I guess it was one of the first signs he was going to be fired.”
Artemis said Richeson made sure the GSA was a safe space for students, encouraging them away from violent retaliation and helping students who had problems. Now, she is concerned about students’ safety.
“I feel like since shootings and violence against the LGBT community have been rising, people are going to think it’s OK to be more violent towards us,” she said.
“I would like everyone to know that there was nothing wrong with the club. There’s nothing wrong with having a safe place for kids that are attracted to different people or don’t feel like the gender they were given. I want people to know that violence coming from either side isn’t going to solve anyone’s problems at all. Acting violent towards the club members won’t help anyone…. That’s why I feel like Mr. Richeson should come back, so he can teach students that some people are different and that hating each other will only bring up more hate.”