Safer Schools, Braver Youth

2016 GSAFE Youth Scholarship winner Keiana James talks about what motivated her to join her school’s GSA and work toward creating a safer environment for all students..

How do you explain why some people are able to achieve things that seem impossible? As a young, rebellious, and outgoing teenager everything was possible to me. My mind was full of passion, dedication, and motivation. I was a part of a choir group during
middle school and I couldn’t wait to see and explore the great clubs and activities my high school would have to offer.

As a freshman at Milwaukee Riverside University High School I was curious to learn everything about myself and others. I wanted to be able to help all students feel free to be themselves without feeling judged or harassed by others. When I first learned about my school GSA I didn’t know much about what it was or what it was about, but I did my research and I joined.

The reason I joined is because I was bullied in my school gym locker room for being LGBTQ+ and I was terrified, humiliated, and depressed. I knew that by joining GSA I could help make sure no one else ever had to go through the harsh situation I went through, because they would have protection, care, and support through GSA such as I did. Instantly, I had another family.

This was the starting step to activism, where I was able to find the person I am today, to be accepting of all, and to stand up and be the voice that brings allies together within the GSA and our community to promote fairness and equality for all students to feel safe, accepted, and appreciated. My goal was to spread acceptance and tolerance throughout my high school. As my school GSA president, I pushed this philosophy through activities and campaigns such as the Day of Silence, Ally Week, and Words Hurt, Words Heal. These workshops were able to help build healthy relationships and acceptance throughout my high school.

From everything I have experienced through my high school GSA, whether it is workshops, board meetings, or even summer camp at LTI, I’m beyond honored and ecstatic to have been part of my GSA’s journey and success. It truly reflected my life, memories, and my future.

My support system has also been crucial to getting me to where I am today—my mom has always been by my side and never gives up on me. Ms. Kohut has been the best GSA advisor, constantly teaching, elevating, and pushing me to chase my dreams. And my  three most motivated GSAFE advisors, Ali, Brian and Tim, who  love me for who I am. They teach me something different every day and I hope to continue to learn from them all. I’m so grateful to the entire GSAFE committee, too, for believing in me and giving me the chance of a lifetime to be one step closer to making a change within our community.