Interfaith fundraiser collects $900 to send PCHS GSA students to PrideWorks conference
March 7, 2019 at 10:20 a.m.
When Port Chester High School senior Mason Cruz came out as transgender, he was disheartened by conflict that arose among his religion, sexuality and gender orientation.
He deemed the experience negative, which isn’t unusual considering traditionally, many have used the Bible in their crusade against the LGBTQ+ community.
So, Cruz was fighting back tears at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church on Sunday, Feb. 24, as around 50 religious leaders and supportive community members gathered to raise $900 for the Port Chester High School Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA).
“It really means so much to me,” said Cruz, the GSA president. “It’s really nice to be in an atmosphere where everyone was standing up, speaking their opinion. I didn’t even come out as trans to them, and they were talking about trans issues and it warmed my heart.”
To show their support for the LGBTQ+ community and emphasize their belief that being gay is not a sin, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, All Souls Presbyterian Church and Congregation KTI organized the fifth annual interfaith fundraiser. Over a buffet of soup, salads and desserts at the 761 King St., Rye Brook, church, they listened to figures such as St. Paul’s Pastor Jim O’Hanlon discuss the hypocrisy of taking the Bible literally for the purposes of hatred when no one can possibly live literally by all teachings of the scripture.
The funds raised will support the high schoolers with their transportation and admission to PrideWorks on Mar. 20, a community building and educational conference at Pace University. Anyone can still contribute by sending checks to the faculty advisor Barry Backelman at the high school at 1 Tamarack Road. Checks should be made out to “Port Chester High School GSA.”
The Port Chester High School community tends to be receptive and supportive of the GSA organization, Backelman said. He still remembers their first set of meetings more than 15 years ago. At the initial meeting, there were around four people in the room. Ten came to the next one, and by the end of the year the room was full.
They’ve seen similar numbers since then.
“More than making big changes, I think what the GSA does is allow people to be who they are,” Backelman said. “We do feel we have great support from the school, I believe people are good and our kids our very good, they’re very welcoming. It’s gotten to the point where it’s comfortable to see two girls walking down the hallway holding hands and kissing each other goodbye before class, just like you’d see a heterosexual couple doing the exact same thing.”
Though the community is supportive, the GSA spends most of its energy throughout the year educating and raising awareness in the school. Often, they aim to teach students about labels and terminology because it’s not uncommon for students to unintentionally say offensive things because how could they know if they were never taught?
Their most anticipated annual event of the year is PrideWorks, Backelman said, with his students eagerly agreeing.
“It’s educational, but it’s more than just education,” the advisor elaborated. “It’s that feeling of belonging. It’s hundreds of other people just like you, open minded, caring, willing to accept anybody for whoever they are.”
Hundreds of middle school, high school and some college students attend PrideWorks every year to mingle and attend workshops. The seminar topics drastically range from serious matters, such as health insurance for transgender students, to lighter material, like homosexuality in comic books.
“I really love the sense of community,” said GSA treasurer Lyndsay Rosenfeld, a junior. “I have friends from different schools who I’ve seen there and get to catch up with them. But I think it’s really important for the workshops. I went to a gender stereotype one called ‘Man Up and Get in the Kitchen” that was interesting. And I took two mental health ones which were about being able to take care of your friends and yourself, which isn’t even necessarily LGBTQ, but it’s a very encompassing issue that’s important for anyone to learn about.”
Cruz added that the students get just as excited about the social events at PrideWorks. There’s a ball, which tends to be bright and flamboyant, and a high energy drag show where famous drag queens have made appearances.
The community aspect and safe environment resonate the most with Cruz.
“It’s nice because to an extent, everywhere you go you have a risk if you’re out. You have a risk of people reacting in a negative way. But (PrideWorks) is one place where you know you’re okay. You’re more than okay,” Cruz explained. “I love it because you can show up, look to your left, look to your right, and they’re all strangers. They’re not necessarily LGBT, but you can look at them and know it’s alright. You just feel welcomed.”