Loy Norrix High School teacher librarian John Kreider was honored with an OutFront Kalamazoo #AlwaysOutFront Award in April for his work as the advisor for the school's Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA).
Kreider said they were humbled to receive the award because they know of so many other teachers and staff who have worked to support students.
“My work with GSA is important, but just as important are the countless conversations I’ve had with students outside of GSA about their evolving understanding of themselves and the world around them,” Kreider said. “A lot of students simply can’t attend GSA for their own safety or for fear of backlash from peers or adults. So it’s very important to me to be available to students, just to listen and affirm them. I’m most proud of being someone a lot of students feel comfortable talking to. I don’t give much advice, I mostly just listen and affirm and direct them to other resources.”
In their role as the school librarian, Kreider said they are “responsible for curating a collection of materials that reflects the experiences and identities of all of my students. I’m constantly asked for books about and by LGBTQIA+ people. Right now books are being challenged around the country and nearly all of them are by authors of color or LGBTQIA+ authors. “A common response to book challenges is to encourage people to buy those books. But that’s not the same as having those books on school library shelves where students have free and equal access to them.”
Principal Chris Aguinaga said Kreider has done an “amazing” job as the advisor to GSA.
“They have helped turn the club into one of our longest-running and most well-attended clubs at Loy Norrix. Clubs often fade over time, but the endurance of the GSA has been excellent. They have helped move the GSA from a support group to a group of advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights at Loy Norrix,” said Aguinaga, who serves on the board of OutFront Kalamazoo. Here are other thoughts Kreider shared about their work as the GSA advisor:
Why did you get involved with GSA — or why did you feel it was important to get involved?
This is only my third year as an advisor of the GSA. Four years ago, when a previous advisor was moving, I said that I would make sure the group continued. Wanting to make sure the group carried on was really the reason I got involved, however, it also happened to be right around the time that I started coming out to my loved ones. So, I needed the group as much as the group needed me. The students and my co-advisors in GSA have helped me learn and grow tremendously.
Why is a group like GSA important for students?
The GSA is important for students because being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community is both beautiful and scary. Students know who they are better than anyone else, and they need to know and believe that whoever they are is valid and absolutely perfect. That goes for all students, of course, and the GSA is here for all students of any identities. But the experience of being Queer, Trans, or questioning is unique in its challenges and rewards, and so those young people need a space to process and celebrate it all.
What kind of activities does the group host?
The students set the course of the group. Typically we have a balance of a few types of meetings that rotate. We have educational meetings, where we discuss things such as policy and law, representation in media, intersectionality, allyship and advocacy, healthy relationships and boundaries, LGBTQIA+ history, and more. We have SEL-focused meetings where we work on art together, or exchange coping skills, or process our emotions together. And we have good ol’ fashioned social time, where we hang out, get to know each other, and party. We also plan events and initiatives together that arise out of our discussions.
What are the biggest issues facing LGBTQIA+ students — especially those who are high school age?
I think one of the biggest issues facing all students is that adults make a lot of decisions that impact young people without really listening to young people. We haven’t done a great job of providing the structure for our students to lead the way on the issues that impact their happiness, health, academic success, and general well-being. This issue is amplified for LGBTQIA+ students because often it’s adults telling young people, directly or indirectly, that, “we know you better than you know you;” “you don’t know who you are, you’re too young;” or “It’s just a phase” is a common refrain my students talk about. And my response to something being “just a phase” is: First, it’s probably not, because being Queeer or Trans can be scary, so no one’s really coming out just for fun or attention; and second, so what if it is a phase? I’d rather be in a phase in which I’m comfortable and happy and then move into another phase where I’m more comfortable and happier than be stuck pretending I’m something I’m not for the comfort of other people.
This story originally appeared in the Kalamazoo Public Schools' publication Excelsior and is reprinted with permission.