The New Paltz High School (NPHS) Pride Club has a message for LGBTQ+ kids who might be struggling during Pride month or all year long.
“Keep going,” said Rosalie (they/them), a rising senior at New Paltz High. “If you do feel like you hit rock bottom, it might sound cliche, but the only place to go is up. You can’t dig farther than bedrock. You can’t go farther than rock bottom…And you can always involve yourself with new people and you can always just find a different light in the dark.”
The Pride Club is a different light in the dark for nearly ten core members, who come together each Thursday during the school year. Among their initiatives is maintaining an informational board in the high school, which in honor of Pride Month includes definitions of gender and sexuality, as well as queer icons like mathematician and computer scientist Alan Turing, Archaic Greek poet Sappho and rapper Lil Nas X.
“It definitely is both educational and just sort of a space to exist in,” said Archer (he/they), a graduating senior and the Pride Club’s president. That’s true of the boards, and it’s also true of Pride Club itself, which counts among its members those who are out and proud, and those for whom the sense of community is a lifeline.
“It’s so great that I have this as a queer person, because in my house there’s not a lot of acceptance,” said Charlie (he/him), a rising tenth grader. “I feel a lot safer and I feel better and more comfortable with specifically my gender identity and sexuality here than at home.”
New Paltz is generally viewed as a progressive school district, repurposing some faculty bathrooms several years ago for gender-neutral student use. But in April, a parent of a transgender student in the district, said her child had been subject to bullying and misgendering by fellow students and adult faculty. A transgender New Paltz High School junior who was interviewed by a Hudson Valley One reporter said some students came out of the COVID-19 pandemic less accepting than before, and that he’d been subjected to frequent bullying.
“I don’t want to push that down, because everyone has different experiences in school,” said Archer. “Everyone’s a different person, we are in different grades, and it varies a lot, especially with having eight classes. But I can say personally I have not faced that type of discrimination. I don’t get called faggot. I don’t experience bullying. People gender me correctly, use the right name. And I know my grade for a fact is very accepting. Like the first time they heard me use a different name, they immediately changed it. I know myself and a lot of people I’m friends with have very good experiences in the school.”
Archer added that one prior experience with bullying was handled swiftly.
“I was bullied back in middle school,” they said. “It happened in one of my classes. I told my teacher and instantly his whole demeanor changed. He was like, ‘No, we’re going to get this solved, because you shouldn’t have to experience that.’ And that was the only time I really faced any homophobia, and I found the district in general was very helpful with that.”
“Teachers and classmates have definitely been really receptive,” he said. “Just today, one of my friends accidentally misgendered me, immediately apologized and then said the correct pronouns without even thinking. Everyone’s super duper respectful around here.”
Rising senior Blake (he/him) hasn’t discussed being trans with his parents yet because he fears they won’t understand, but he has found comfort and acceptance in the Pride Club and New Paltz High. He hoped that other students who might be struggling might join the club, or at least find someone to talk to so they won’t feel isolated.
“If someone does feel uncomfortable and they feel like they just need someone to talk to you, they can talk to people,” he said. “Personally, I’m open to listen and I know that there are other people here who would be totally fine with someone sharing their experiences.”
Archer added that even in a school where there’s a general air of acceptance, the Pride Club can be an oasis.
“Having the club means that there’s just like one place where people can meet and feel very comfortable and just have fun with people that are like them,” they said. “And also being around people that do experience the same things that you may feel can help you go through those things. It adds some support to some hard times.”
“I feel it’s very essential for kids just knowing that they’re going to school for like six hours a day, and being able to have people there that make you feel comfortable and make you feel heard, make you feel seen, is extremely important,” Archer added.
Claire (she/her), a rising tenth grader said that NPHS faculty is also very understanding.
“Teachers have questionnaires in the beginning of the year asking like, preferred names and pronouns and if there is a preferred name that you use, and if you want that used when contacting parents,” she said. “Teachers are really like a safe place in the school to talk to about issues.”
That isn’t to say members of the Pride Club feel New Paltz High is perfect.
“We have a Black History class and we have a Women’s History class, but we don’t have an LGBTQ history class, which I feel like a lot of kids would sign up for,” said Archer. “We have a lot of different classes that we offer, and even though this is what I would consider a very progressive school, we still don’t have that. So it’s like we’re just at a point where we have to keep paving our own path, and we can’t rely on anyone else to do that.”
The members of the Pride Club said they sympathize with kids locally and around the country who feel they have to hide their true selves, particularly as far-right politicians continue pushing anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.
“Somehow they care so much about children being hurt by drag shows far more than they do about children being hurt by guns,” Archer said.
But members of the Pride Club said they feel the national culture is shifting away from homophobia and transphobia.
“From what I personally have seen from going on the internet or just like even talking here or talking to other kids outside of here, is everywhere has gotten a lot more accepting,” said rising senior Rosalie (they/them). “And the reason there’s so much hate right now is just cause these homophobic people and transphobic people just have really loud mouths they just like to run.”
Owen (she/they/he), a rising sophomore, said anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment says more about those who are less accepting than those they target.
“I think it’s important to remember, especially when the world seems very bleak in terms of hate is that hate is an open festering wound that kind of gradually destroys those who wield it as a sword,” they said. “Even if you’re feeling terrible right now, you can take to the knowledge that your life, as long as you survive, will be happier than those who try and make your life miserable.”
“There have been a lot of polls asking people what they think of the LGBTQ community and a lot of people say that they’re like either very accepting or maybe don’t understand it, but accepted they’re not bothered by it,” they said. “These officials are not representing the majority of people.”
The members of the New Paltz High School Pride Club are ready to have those conversations, to accept new members and to keep living their lives. And they feel they’re in the right place to do that.