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Vail Valley high school club welcomes gay, straight students

Sarah Mausolf
smausolf@vaildaily.com
Vail, CO Colorado
Dominique Taylor/Vail DailyGay Straight Alliance member, Amelia Bremerkamp, 16, paints a sign for the upcoming Day of Silence in art teacher Berneil Bannon's room at Battle Mountain High School in Edwards Friday
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VAIL VALLEY – Students at Battle Mountain High School in Colorado’s Vail Valley have launched a new club called the Gay Straight Alliance.

The group – which encourages acceptance of all sexual orientations – formed about a month after Vail ushered in its first Gay Ski Week.

Part social gathering, part activist group, the Gay Straight Alliance plans its first event April 16. About 22 students at the Edwards school will refrain from talking during the school day and wear T-shirts reading “Day of Silence.”



“People are silent to represent how gay people don’t really have a voice in society,” said Emma Ouimette, who is straight and a member of the club.

Students approached school officials with the idea for the club about two months ago, guidance counselor Todd Pentello said. He and art teacher Berneil Bannon agreed to organize it.



“From my perspective, as a counselor, I know the lesbian, gay, transgender population is more at risk for suicide attempts, for homelessness, more at risk for substance abuse, more at risk for being singled out and harassed at school,” Pentello said. “I think, as a counselor, it’s important to work with that marginalized population.”

It’s hard to say how many students at the school are gay. A handful of kids are openly gay, but beyond that there’s really no way of measuring which teens identify with what sexual orientation, students said.

There are some lingering barriers for kids who want to be openly gay or simply accepted for being different, students said.



“The environment that we’re in right now: It would be difficult for someone to come out,” said senior Chris Lindbloom, a member of the club. “It would be a big thing. There are a lot of people who would be kind of malicious toward that. There are definitely also people who would be more accepting of that.”

While many students are tolerant, Lindbloom and Ouimette said they also overhear hears kids in the halls throwing around the words “fag” and “gay” as a substitute for “stupid” on a daily basis.

“I’ve never known anyone who is, for lack of a better word, hostile, but I know many people that have it in their head that if you’re gay, you’re going to burn in Hell,” Lindbloom said. “They think it’s a choice and that’s something I want people to realize: It isn’t a choice. Why would someone choose to be ridiculed in society like that?”

Within the club itself, no one asks questions about the sexual orientation of the students who attend – and that’s the point, students said: It doesn’t matter.

“It’s not just about gay students or straight students,” Ouimette said. “It’s about accepting people’s differences and having an open mind.”

Weekly meetings have drawn anywhere from 10 to 30 students. Most recently, students have been planning their day of silence, which will end with a party and possibly a speaker who will talk about being gay in high school. Looking ahead, students want to organize a June field trip to the gay pride parade in Denver.

In another move toward tolerance, many teachers in the school have posted pink triangles on the doors of their classrooms that read “diversity is celebrated here.” Nazis once used pink triangles to identify male prisoners who were sent to concentration camps because they were gay. However, the gay community has since repurposed the symbol, using it as an emblem of acceptance.

Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or smausolf@vaildaily.com.


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