By Kate Bunster
The ninth period bell rings on a Thursday afternoon. Some kids headed to the bus, others straight to the Niskayuna High School media room.
Em Remillard stands in front of the room and gets everyone’s attention. They quickly stop their chatter and direct their attention to the front to discuss this week’s agenda written on the board: middle school visits, utopia dance, “Freeheld,” “Rocky Horror,” Spirit Day T-shirts. “We accept all opinions,” Remillard reminded the group before they begin. This is the Visibility Club and Remillard is vice president.
The Niskayuna High School Visibility Club has been in existence since 1993, the first one of the Capital Region. Currently, there are at least 12 other area high schools that also have gay-straight alliance clubs. The Niskayuna Visibility Club exists to promote acceptance and respect for LGBT students. Although it’s been around for quite some time, the club only received school funding as of last January. Co-adviser Mary-Jo Pierpont is going into her second year with the club.
“My involvement with Visibility has shown me the specific challenges, struggles and issues that LGBTQA [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Questioning, and Allied] youth face every day. At the same time, it is impressive to see how our LGBTQA youth become comfortable and empowered knowing that their school is creating a safe environment for everyone,” said Pierpont. “I feel very privileged to be associated with the members of this club and know that their involvement will create a more inclusive school environment.”
That particular day, Visibility had many exciting upcoming events to discuss, such as plans to go see “Freeheld,” a new movie starring Ellen Page, who came out last year, and is love story about a same-sex couple.
After discussing the agenda, the meetings usually proceed with an exercise they do called “roses and thorns,” where they go around the room and each member shares a positive and negative experience they have had since the last meeting.
“It’s better to have a balloon in a room of balloons than a balloon in a room full of spikes,” said Linda Borges, co-adviser of Visibility.
Two weeks ago, James Shultis, from the Albany Pride Center came in as a guest speaker to talk to the students about support options available to LGBT students. Shultis also administered activities and addressed different issues with the club.
“Visibility Club has given me a voice,” said Emily Yaroszeutski, a junior, who joined the club after viewing an anti-bullying video in her freshman health class. “It’s an accepting environment and gives me something to look forward to each week.”
This week was no exception. The Visibility club officers broke out purple shirts and art supplies to decorate for Spirit Day, a day to show support for LGBT youth and stand up to bullying, on Oct. 15. Spirit Day began in 2010 as a day for individuals, schools, organizations, corporations, and public figures to wear purple, which symbolizes “spirit” on the rainbow flag. Each student created a shirt that was meaningful to them, some decorating their shirts with rainbows, some writing phrases and others just adding a splash of color.
By 4 o’clock, the shirts are all decorated, ready to be worn proudly on Spirit Day. As the students are packing up, Remillard reads off LGBT facts from different time periods to the club. Some of them are sad, but they remind us all of how far we’ve come. When they get to the present day, they pause.
“And finally,” Remillard says. “In 2015, same sex marriage was seen as constitutional in the U.S.”
By Kate Bunster