SOGI Story #1: The Growth of the Novi GSA (video)

SOGI Story #1: The Growth of the Novi GSA (video)DDAnew01

(Crystal A. Proxmire, Feb. 8, 2015)

The SOGI (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity) Issues in Education Conference is hosted each year by Oakland University, with the aim of giving educators and social workers tools they need to understand how best to work with LGBTQ youth. The day-long conference was full of stories and information, which we’ll be sharing over the next couple of weeks. To learn more about SOGI, including the large Midwest Conference coming Oct 17-18, visit

Two years ago, two students from Novi High School and two advisors were thrilled to be attending the 2013 SOGI conference. They had started the school’s first Gay-Straight Alliance Detroit_GT_05just a couple years before that and had come to the conference to share their experience and learn from what others were doing to help LGBTQ youth be supported in their schools.

Amidst rooms full of fellow-knowledge-seekers led by educators, issue advocators, and other community leaders, the women soaked up the experience and carried inspiration home.

One of those teens has since graduated, and her younger brother has carried the torch forward. The other is an upperclassperson, advising the younger students as the organization continues to grow. This year President Catherine Boileau, ElaineMcIntyre, Marisa Ayerst and Ian Dunbar-Gaynor came to SOGI to lead the session “Reaching Out and Leaving Tracks,” along with teachers Megan Taylor and John Dudek.chazzano game ad

The Novi GSA has grown form a couple of young women to a group of 25-45 teens who meet once a week. They have discussions, do activities and plan outreach events and activities. An element of stability and empowerment is that at the beginning of each meeting they sit in a circle and introduce themselves by answering a rather innocuous question. “It’s something fun like ‘What is your favorite ice cream?’ or “If you were a shoe what kind would you be?’” said Dunbar-Gaynor.

Boileau said the circle really helped her come out of her shell and grow as a person. “It helped me find my voice because everyone speaks and everyone is listened to. The questions make it so all CFSEM-123-OaklandCounty115-digital-ad_v2the answers are different, so it’s okay that our answers are not the same as our friends,” she said.

By finding a place where she could be comfortable and part of a group, Ayerst also found more independence. “Before GSA I had a lot of other people’s opinions inside my head. Now I have my own opinions, and what people think does not matter.”

After the question circle, the group does an activity together and handles GSA business. They’ve had a National Guard Captain come and speak about how the military has changed since the repeal of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that kept people in the closet while serving. They participate in a Halloween Run and have donated $100 a year for two years to Affirmations ferncareADCommunity Center in Ferndale. And they’re currently working with Holy Cross Episcopal Church to create a community GSA.

The teens talked about changes inside the school as well. “We participated in Day of Silence,” Boileau said. “We put duct tape on our mouths and stayed completely silent, but we got a lot of backlash.” The school administration has since told them that the duct tape was disruptive but that wearing t-shirts in solidarity would be fine.

They also came against the administration over the lack of LGBTQ inclusion in health classes. They spoke at Board of Education meetings encouraging them broaden the curriculum. “We wanted the Board to know we exist. We wanted LGBT added to health,” said Dunbar-Gaynor. seed8989483RudySerra dec jan febThey have not yet been successful, but will continue advocating for a health class that does not marginalize LGBT health needs.

Successes are still obvious. “Lesbian couples, gay couples, hold hands in the hallway and kiss. Lesbians change in the locker room with other girls,” Ayerst said. Over 90% of teachers have a Safe Space rainbow sticker on their classroom doors, letting students know that if they need a kind ear, it is there for them.

In her life, being part of GSA has not only helped Boileau be stronger, but it’s helped her family be more accepting. “I watched my parents go from ‘NO!’ to “Eh, maybe it’s okay.’ It may not seem like much, but to me it is,” she said. “It’s helped me be patient with them too. We are always moving forward, and we all move at a different pace.”steele lindbloom ad

Novi GSA meetings wrap up with students who need to talk about problems doing so with peers they can trust and feel comfortable with. Taylor and Dudek are there to make sure people are supervised and supported, but mainly empower the youth to create the space and environment they are most comfortable in.

Other schools look to Novi High School’s GSA as a model for how to start their own. Resources are also available through GLSEN SE Michigan. Their website is

Below is a video Novi GSA did of a staff meeting where they introduced their group:

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