“It is okay to be gay”: Students walk out in protest of anti-LGBTQ legislation

Students+participating+in+walk+out.+Photo%3A+Georgia+Wool

Students participating in walk out. Photo: Georgia Wool

Julia Keeton, Editor-in-Chief

On March 11, chants of “homophobia has got to go” and expletives aimed at Texas lawmakers pierced the usual afternoon quiet of Church Street Marketplace. The voices behind the shouts? Burlington High School and Edmunds Middle School students protesting anti-LGBTQ+ legislation recently proposed in several states across the country. 

“I feel like the fact that [this legislation is] being let happen is one of the biggest failures our country has seen,” Ash Greenip, who uses they/them pronouns, said in a passionate speech to the hundreds of gathered students. 

BHS’ Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) organized the walk out as part of a nationwide event staged by Queer Youth Assemble, an LGBTQ+ activist group. Greenip is one of six LGBTQ+ members of BHS’ GSA who addressed the crowd. 

Some school generated club is the reason that I am who I am or even alive,”

— Aria Batten

In their speeches, the students focused on three pieces of legislation: a Florida bill which would restrict lessons on sexual orientation in schools, an Idaho bill which would criminalize gender-affirming medical care, and Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s direction to the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate gender-affirming care for transgender children as child abuse. 

Aria Batten ‘23, a transgender woman and co-leader of the GSA, said she was “f—ing heartbroken” upon learning of the Florida bill. She described the importance of having places to discuss LGBTQ+ issues in schools. 

“[Without the GSA], I might not even be here in front of you right now, which is heartbreaking to say: that some school generated club is the reason that I am who I am or even alive,” Batten said. “…If they take that away, it’s actively endangering LGBT children.” 

Greenip knows from personal experience just how detrimental it can be when parents do not support their children’s gender identity. Under the Idaho law, parents would be penalized for offering it.

“When I came out to my dad, he was very unsupportive,” Greenip said. “And it made my depression so much worse. So the fact that these state representatives and these lawmakers are looking at all these trans youth situations and saying that they don’t deserve help, that help is somehow harming them, it makes me angry. It makes me sad.” 

Photo: Rebecca Cunningham

Samantha Santarcangelo ‘25, a student participant in the walk out, expressed the importance of showing support for the LGBTQ+ community, especially for someone like her who is “questioning” her identity. 

“When you mentally think you’re not safe or mentally aren’t aware of how loved or supported you are, you can have those thoughts that you aren’t important or you don’t belong,” Santarcangelo said. “And to know other people are in the same position is really nice.” 

Brooke Hoyt, BHS Executive Assistant elaborated on the impact of the walk out. 

I want all in the LGBT community to know that we see you. We hear you. It is okay to be gay,”

— Katelin Pecsenyeki

“As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, it is really important that we stand against these bills,” Hoyt said. “It’s harmful to our youth. It’s harmful to everybody. And I really love that the Burlington community is all for it.”

Batten pointed out that Vermont is not immune to homophobia or transphobia. Prior to coming out as trans, Batten identified as bisexual. She recalled how students would “pester” her about her boyfriend, referring to being gay as “gross” and making insinuations about her and a teacher. 

“I hope that [the walk out] will destigmatize the LGBT community here in Burlington because despite being a progressive state, there are still many bigoted people here,” Batten said. 

Katelin Pecsenyeki, a GSA member, directly addressed LGBTQ+ students in her speech to the crowd. 

“When you try to silence our voices and act like we don’t even exist, that is not okay,” she said. “So with that, I want all in the LGBT community to know that we see you. We hear you. It is okay to be gay.”