Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Local GLBTQ youth culture explored

When asked about the biggest surprise she encountered while researching her thesis on gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and questioning (GLBTQ) youth in Walla Walla, senior Shea Healey said it was that people were willing to talk to her.

“I originally assumed that I would have trouble scheduling interviews due to the controversial subject matter, especially in the local school district,” Healey said.   “I was surprised to find that the large majority of individuals I contacted were willing to not only discuss this issue but to think critically on the state of homosexuality in Walla Walla.”

Healey’s research, entitled “Out and Proud?   The Atmosphere Surrounding GLBTQ Youth in Walla Walla,” made her the recipient of this year’s David Nord Award.     This award is reserved for Whitman students and faculty who address important issues in the gay and lesbian community through creative or scholarly works.

David Nord graduated Whitman in 1983 and became a delegate to the Democratic Party Convention in 1996.   The David Nord Award was established in 1996.   Nord died of AIDS in 1999.

“The Nord Award is an amazing opportunity for students to study GLBTQ issues,” said junior Dusti Thurman, who works as a GLBTQ intern and was responsible for organizing Healey’s presentation.   “The issue of queer youth in Walla Walla is something that’s been in need of address… I really hope Shea’s presentation can be of some help to make the four years of high school suck less for students who aren’t straight.”

Healey presented her thesis last Monday to a large crowd at the Gaiser Auditorium.   She included quotes from multiple interviews with students, teachers and administrators in the Walla Walla School District on the subject of local GLBTQ youth.

“I was actually a little surprised at the turnout but it was definitely a pleasant surprise,” said Thurman. “I think the topic…really helped in drawing people in.”

Healey first came up with the idea for her thesis while volunteering for Triple Point, the first GLBTQ youth program to be formed in Walla Walla.

“I wanted to write a thesis that would give voice to young sexual minorities, a population that is too often silenced in Walla Walla,” Healey said.   “I was largely inspired by local GLBTQ youth: an amazing and courageous group of kids.”

First-year Logan Skirm, who attended the presentation, acknowledged the need for Whitman students to better understand such issues that impact the community.

“I thought it was important to support Shea and her research.   Most of all, I think it was important to get insight into the Walla Walla community to see what is really going on in the parts we don’t see on campus,” he said.   “Whitman students [should] broaden their knowledge of the local scene and not just look at the community in a superficial way…I have great hopes that the presentation will spark continued interest and activism from Whitman students and that they can hopefully continue Shea’s work by encouraging the development of local GSAs and reduce then stigmatization of sexual minorities.”

While the presentation indicated some glaring inadequacies in the resources schools provide to students about sexuality, Healey’s overall appraisal of the situation suggests that the community’s reaction to GLBTQ youth is more often influenced by inexperience and discomfort with the issue than it is by outright hostility.

“I found that most people were uncomfortable with it but not opposed to supporting GLBTQ youth,” Healey said.

Skirm also noted the mixed feedback presented in the survey.

“On the positive side, there’s the fact that there was such a very receptive response to the survey, and to Shea, as she collected data,” Skirm said.   “However, the survey did reveal that there was ignorance, misinformation and a certain degree of indifference to changing to situation.”

Thurman expressed similar views, as well as the hope that this presentation will continue to foster dialogue within the community.

“I think her presentation can at least begin some discourse about the topic. It was also good to see that there is some hope in the situation.   Maybe the light at the end of the tunnel is faint and far away, but it is there and I think that’s good to know.”

Despite the challenges Walla Walla faces in reconciling its small town mentality with the needs of GLBTQ students, Healey remains optimistic.

“I think there is tremendous potential in Walla Walla for creating a safe, supporting and comfortable atmosphere for GLBTQ youth,” she said.   “The process of meeting that potential, however, will require a committed community effort.”

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