LGBTQ teens in Takoma

BY SHARADHA KALYANAM

Takoma Park, home of Maryland’s first openly gay elected official, Mayor Bruce Williams, held advocacy and awareness initiatives this September.

The Takoma Park library has its own way of supporting the LGBTQ community in Takoma Park. It recently organized an advocacy program ‘LGBTQ + Awareness.’

“The program was created and presented by middle-school students,” Karen MacPherson, Children’s and Youth Services Coordinator, Takoma Park Maryland Library said.

During September the library also observed the Banned Books Week, a yearly event that showcased a variety of books considered inappropriate because they had to do with the LGBTQ community.

“For example, a book that was the most challenged in America in recent years was a picture book titled ‘And Tango Makes Three’, which details the true story of two male penguins in the Central Park Zoo who raised a baby penguin,” she said. This book was highlighted and discussions were held in the library’s Banned Book Club about other books of a similar kind.

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Some of the Stonewall Book Award winners available at the Takoma Park, Maryland Library. Photo by Bill Brown.

MacPherson said that as the children’s and teen librarian, she routinely purchased the winners of the Stonewall Book Awards sponsored by the American Library Association. The awards are given annually to books of “exceptional merit relating to the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender experience,” she said.

“We created book-lists of LGBTQ-theme books for kids, teens and adults that were handed out at the September 16 event,” she said.

Adelaide Harris, 13, an eighth grader and a resident of Takoma Park, is proud. She helped organize the ‘LGBTQ + Awareness’ event at the Takoma Park Maryland Library. Back at the Eastern Middle School in Silver Springs where she studies, she and her friends are excited because the school authorities finally agreed for the school’s LGBTQ club to be renamed the ‘Gay-Straight Alliance’ or GSA. Harris identifies as bisexual and is the president of the Alliance.

September 18, the day this happened, was a big day for most of the students at the school.

The school originally had a club called the G.L.O.W for Gay, Lesbian Or Whatever. “When people started to use the name as an insult- ‘that’s so glow’- the club was told to change the name,” she said.

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After this, they called themselves the Tolerance and Diversity Alliance or TADA.  “But I was unhappy with it because I felt it did not represent us as a club or who we were. It felt like our expression was being limited,” she said.

Once they decided to call it the GSA, she was apprehensive about how the principal would react. “We were expecting more of a kickback, so I had printed out a copy of the Equal Access Act of 2003, and had a list of talking points, but she readily agreed. I was a bit surprised,” Adelaide said.

Activities at the Alliance include poster making, and group discussions on matters that affect the life of LGBTQ students. The group was started over two years ago and the number of people attending the meeting has doubled since last year.

“We are the first Gay-Straight Alliance in a middle school in Maryland. I have tried to find information on other ones and could not,” she said.

About the Author

Sharadha Kalyanam
Engineer-turned-journalist and writer with a penchant for numbers are some of the ways in which I’d like to describe myself. I believe that words can change the world, and I think that every story is capable of impacting lives. Growing up in various parts of the Indian subcontinent gave me different perspectives to development, and helped me understand the difference, a gap between peoples’ ‘wants’ and ‘needs’. Where are things going wrong? : is a question I like to ask myself every day. And journalism helps me go in pursuit of those very answers. I am also an avid reader, trekker, and follower of Indian classical music. Biggest fear is that I will wake up one day and find that passion ceases to exist in the world, but otherwise simple, reserved, and solitary. That’s just about everything I can say about myself. Read my stories and learn more.