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Proud and Out at Jenks

By: Isabella Arias

 When you hear the term LGBTQ+, what normally comes to mind? For most people, it means rainbow flags, pride marches, and being out and proud. However, many people within the queer community don’t have the privilege of feeling that way, especially in a state like Oklahoma.

 Although Jenks is in Oklahoma, there have been several groups to make students who identify as LGBTQ+ feel welcome. The Middle School used to host a “recharge” called the Equality Alliance, and the High School used to host the PRISM club, both of which were accepting to anyone and everyone who wanted to join. Both of these clubs are now gone, so I sat down with both allies and a member of the LGBTQ+ community to hear their thoughts. 

The first person I talked to was Cat Koehn, another teacher at Jenks with a background in sexuality studies.

Q: Do you think that Jenks is supportive of the LGBT community?

A: “As much as possible in Oklahoma. Just this year, it was released that teachers are to refer to students as their preferred name and pronouns, which was not a requirement before, so I’m really happy to see that. However, we are legally bound by the parents to call their students what they want their children to be referred to as. Everybody at Jenks that I have talked to about the LGBT community have gotten down to the core belief that they want to help students. Any time we can support students in their decisions, it’s a bonus.”

Q:You were the club sponsor for PRISM last year, how did that come about?

A: I had a group of students that were interested in being part of a club, and the club sponsor from last year had moved. They didn’t have anyone to sponsor their club, so I told them: ‘I will’. 

Q: What was your job as a club sponsor?

A: “I basically hosted and provided a room for them. I would ask administration what they could do, or couldn’t do. They set up most of it, and they wanted to be part of a GSA, but they were always so busy, that nothing ever took off. They work, they’re in other clubs, our LGBT community is so involved with other things that they don’t necessarily have time to focus on that aspect. I think that shows how integrated into the school our Students are.”

The next person I talked to was Karen Workun, an english teacher here at Jenks High School. She’s the person who started putting up the safe space posters which can now be found outside of several teachers’ rooms. 

Q: Someone told me that you’re the teacher who started the spread of safe space posters that’re outside of some classrooms, why and how did you start that? 

A: “It’s important for students to know where they can find a safe space. I received materials from the GLSEN network (a national gay straight alliance), and they sent out a safe space sign. I thought it was an easy way to let students know that if they need a safe space, they can come here. I had other teachers ask me where they could get one, and so we started sharing it.”

Q: Have you noticed a significant change in how Jenks treats LGBT+ students in the time that you’ve been here?

A: “Absolutely. Things have definitely shifted at Jenks specifically. It’s important for me to be intentional about making sure that I’m navigating relationships with LGBT+ students in the proper way. I also think it’s important to acknowledge members of the LGBT+ community as members of the human race. We shouldn’t be afraid to say words like lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender; in our classrooms because that’s how people identify themselves, and they’re not pejoratives.

Q: Do you think that Jenks is inclusive of LGBT+ members?

A: “I hope that we are. I certainly have heard stories from students who felt that Jenks is inclusive, and I’ve also heard stories where students don’t feel that way. I think that being able to have the safe space poster up has been a big step in that we are more welcoming. Part of our mission statement is that we ‘invest in every trojan, every day’ and that includes our LGBT+ students. 

Lastly, I talked with Senior Gabe Banner, who identifies as nonbinary and pansexual, to discuss their experience at Jenks as a member of the LGBT+ community.

Q: Has identifying with the LGBT+ community affected your school experience?

“Definitely. I have to be careful in class and with teachers, because I don’t know how they feel about me… existing. I was 12 when I realized I wasn’t straight, and 13 when I realized I wasn’t a girl; that changed my school experience completely.”

Q: Do you think that there’s a need or want for a GSA within those that identify as LGBT+ at jenks?

“I do, but I personally have run into a lot of problems when it comes to running a GSA at Jenks. Another factor is finding people who are open minded to sponsor the club. I also want GSA’s to be educational. Someone can come in, not knowing anything about the acronym, and learn. There is a want, and for some people a need, for a GSA at Jenks.”

Q: What are some things that you wish Jenks would do to make the LGBT+ community feel safer or included?

A: One thing I really would like to see is trans sensitivity training, I’d do it myself if I could. Even just that would establish and show that Jenks is a safe and open place. I feel like as it stands, we’re just a group of people who, some people know that we exist, and some don’t. I do think Jenks has a problem with not being LGBT friendly, and there are lots of steps that can be taken to resolve that problem.

There seems to be a slight disconnect between the experiences of teachers and students at Jenks in regards to the LGBT community. Teachers feel that there has been much progress, while students feel that there is a very significant amount of progress to be made. Though there is a disagreement between the two groups, there is a common passion to continue to progress and become more inclusive.

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