By Uma Ribeiro, Kevin Barry, Lydia Jensen, and Leaana Khan
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Pictured above: Hammond students gathered on the stadium stands for the walkout while SAGA members deliver speeches
On Friday, March 11th, student members of Hammond’s Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA) club led a school walkout in order to protest the anti-queer youth attacks occurring in Florida and Texas, including the “Don’t Say Gay” bill passed in Florida and Texas Governor Greg Abbott publicly stating that trans-affirming healthcare for minors is “child abuse”.
Many staff and students decked out in rainbow clothing, showing their support for the LGBTQ+ community, and there was a huge turnout, with the majority of the school walking out to learn more about the injustices being protested.
Several speeches were given by SAGA club members, informing students and staff of what is occurring in these states as well as ways they can take action toward seeing these injustices come to an end.
Gabriel Porter and Theo Hill, co-presidents of SAGA club, introduced the walkout speakers and fellow SAGA club members Emilyn Heikell, Chris Loughery, and Aja Diaz-Pender who spoke about the events occurring in Florida and Texas and what the Hammond community can do to help queer youth.
When asked how they planned the walkout, SAGA member and Hammond senior Lilith Allman commented, “All of the planning was done by the [student] members of SAGA, mainly myself and the two presidents, Theo and Gabe. We asked our SAGA club who wanted to give speeches, and we even talked with the principal to see how we could safely run this walkout. He said we needed to make passes so they could keep track of where everyone was. I took it upon myself to make a simple pass because we did not have a lot of time to plan anything.”
“I was participating in the walkout because I want to let those who are affected by these bills know that they are seen and they have my full support. I hope that these bills get removed and that people can see that these bills…harm everyone,” they added.
Hammond Media Specialist and one of SAGA’s sponsors, Ms. Danielle DuPuis, commented, “I think as a staff member I was nervous, and just wanted to make sure everything went smoothly for the kids, [but] I think it turned out really well. There were a lot of students present. I think it was probably at least 75 percent of the school, if not more…we filled up a lot of the stands out there. I think students conducted themselves in an orderly and respectful manner and I think our SAGA students that planned this walkout did a really nice job of speaking. I know it’s nerve wracking to speak in front of a large audience, but I think they did an awesome job.”
Aja Diaz-Pender said they participated in the walkout and delivered a speech, “Because I am queer and I hate seeing other people being treated poorly. I thought it was important to speak up and have my voice heard.”
When asked what she hopes will happen as a result of the walkout, Ms. DuPuis commented, “I hope that people continue to educate themselves and learn about things because you just never know what effects you until it affects you…there’s lots of legislation [and] lots of hateful groups in our area that could potentially be a problem for our students.”
“It’s really important to be knowledgeable so that way you have the facts that you need, so when you have a discussion with other people or you need to educate someone else, you are properly equipped to do so.”
“For me I was really inspired to see that students were very interested in the topic and started to do their research. Maybe there were some people [at the walkout] who didn’t know why they were there, so hopefully they learned something, and then that will also inspire them to learn more about the subject,” she added.
Some members expressed apprehension regarding the walkout, thinking not enough people would attend. However, Emilyn “…felt happy and relieved when [they] turned the corner and saw a stampede of students.”
Want to know how you can be a true ally and advocate?
Emilyn recommended giving “…emotional support to any[one] in these areas, and to support local foundations that [could] help relieve [their] stress.”
For Florida, they recommend ALSO Youth.
“You can send a letter to the legislator who put forth [these] bills,” Aja said.
“People can help by donating to places like the Trevor Project and other pro-LGBTQ+ charities. They can also join in [on] more protests, such as walkouts,” Lilith added on.
“I think anytime someone is speaking negatively about a queer person or tries to “out” somebody, that they need to shut it down immediately. Don’t let it happen. When you hear somebody…making a negative comment, it shouldn’t have to be queer kids that have to stand up all the time in defense of themselves,” commented Ms. DuPuis.
“It should be allies that are also there and coming to their defense and their aid. Once you learn about something, it is your responsibility to then make a change for the better.”
For resources for all members of the LGBTQ+ community as well as allies, click here.