By Kristin Schultz
Who are you?
A strong sense of self and belonging is key as adolescents make their way toward adulthood. Among the most challenging times and places to work through self-identity are middle school and high school.
In 1993, Niskayuna High School student Jessica Max Stein (now a writer and professor in New York City) started what is now known at her alma mater as Visibility SAGA (Sexuality and Gender Alliance). The 24-year-old club works to create a supportive environment for students and educate the community on issues facing the LGBT community.
First-year adviser Clayton Callahan is excited to see the growth in attendance this year.
“It’s really fun. The students have such high energy and the club just gets bigger and bigger. There are new people every week,” Callahan said.
The club leadership makes sure that the group is a safe space and a place to share and hear from speakers.
The club also advocates for changes at the high school. This year, they made a request to have one of the building’s restrooms designated gender neutral. Co-president Em Remillard reported that the school administration has been very supportive and that making the change “basically requires a $5 sign.”
On May 24, Visibility SAGA hosted a community meeting featuring speaker Kamryn Wolf of the Pride Center of the Capital Region. They talked about how the community at large can help create a supportive environment for the LGBT community.
The club regularly hosts speakers and panels that encourage conversation and promote dialog.
Some of the students in the club were excited to get to leave middle school for high school because they knew they could join a community like Visibility SAGA.
It’s possible, however, that current Iroquois and Van Antwerp students won’t have to wait. At the suggestion of students, school personnel are working to offer opportunities for LGBT students in the middle schools as early as next year.
Advocating close to home and reaching out to a broader audience is not only important for the members of Visibility SAGA, it’s part of the legacy they hope to leave, long after they graduate.
“We want to keep educating people until we reach the whole community,” said co-president Emma Mahony. “We want to leave a legacy of being a supportive environment.”