Frances Berta a 15-year-old sophomore at Oak Park and River Forest High School is president of A Place for All, the school’s club for students of all genders and sexual orientations. They say that APA “provides a space for queer kids in the school to feel themselves in a place that accepts them.”
Many students who attend APA’s weekly meetings are not in a safe enough situation for them to come out to their parents. But with the support of their fellow students and the APA sponsors the group becomes a nonjudgmental and friendly place.
OPRF’s APA also welcomes allies with a purpose of offering advocacy and inclusion for people across the LGBTQ+ community.
APA meets every Wednesday with a goal of creating a safe space for everyone including allies, but especially people of the LGBTQ+ community who may not feel accepted at home or in some parts of the school.
APA meetings start off with announcements where opportunities for LGBTQ+ youth are shared with the community. At the last meeting, scholarship opportunities for LGBTQ+ youth and allies were announced. There was also news of an opportunity provided by the Oak Park Public Library allowing youth to get a library card with their preferred name on it without the need of an adult. After announcements, the club transfers to an activity such as games or crafts that further creates bonds with the people within the club.
According to students in APA, OPRF has done a strong job of listening to student voices to create an environment where students feel accepted. APA’s efforts are featured in the Daily Bulletin the school sends out. And, say APA members, OPRF tries to work with the club to create new opportunities for students. The school, they say, prides itself in the multitude of clubs it provides for students to enhance a better learning environment.
APA has future plans to add guest speakers who will talk about things such as sexual health for queer teens, what it is like to be queer in a religious environment and the fact many queer people are still religious. Also on the list of topics is what it is like being queer in the black community.
Remus Bachner a 15-year-old freshman who is a member of APA, says such discussions and openness are not only important for awareness but they said it is important for “people who don’t have a safe space.” Bachner explained they are lucky to have that space at home but it is important to them to have a “queer space just for queer people” where there is no negativity and hate.
In a world where LGBTQ+ youth are still at higher risk for mental health issues and hate crimes it is important, Bachner says, “It’s nice to have a space where there is no censor.”
Ashley Brown is a student at OPRF and a contributing reporter for Wednesday Journal.