After postponement, student-led Gay-Straight Alliance event at Cox High School brings hundreds together

Morgan Houlihan, Phoebe Prabowo and Logan Smith — all 15-year-old sophomores — hold a rainbow flag in the very back of the auditorium at Cox High School on Monday, Jan. 30, before the start of the “Love Is Love” assembly organized by the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance group. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

GREAT NECK – People packed the auditorium at Frank W. Cox High School on Monday, Jan. 30, for the school’s first ever Gay-Straight Alliance assembly – a forum called “Love Is Love” that was organized by the students of the school’s alliance group. 

The Gay-Straight Alliance aims to create a safe place for students to meet, support each other, talk about issues and expression, and work to end homophobia and transphobia, according to the pamphlet for the event. 

The gathering was the makeup for a school assembly postponed in December meant to create a conversation following a reported bullying incident at the school.

The initial event, scheduled for Monday, Dec. 5, was postponed by administrators a day before it was set to take place, leading to criticism and media coverage of the decision

The schools cited an interference with regularly scheduled instruction time and a desire to include students and members of the community in the conversation as the reason behind rescheduling the event. 

Ethan Potts, a member of the LGBTQ community and a Cox High School alumnus, kicked off the night’s discussion with a video message sent from his home in California. 

“I think it’s so important that an event like this is taking place at such a crucial time,” he said. “I wish that it had taken place when I was there because maybe it would’ve helped me with, you know, my life at the time and the things that I was dealing with.”

Some students said they were let down by the postment of the event, but they were glad to see it still happen. 

“It was disappointing,” Leroy Nix, a sophomore at the school, said.  

“I’m just happy they rescheduled,” said Miriam Lampe, also a sophomore. 

“This means a lot to the kids here,” Lampe added.

Guest speakers, a student panel and a flag performance honoring the LGBTQ community served to highlight and emphasize the night’s message – love is love.

Michael Berlucchi, president of Hampton Roads Pride, shared his personal story with the audience. As a member of the LGBTQ community and a city schools graduate, he explained just how similar his story was to the experiences of some students who face harassment today.

“Students would throw me the football in an effort to force me to run with it so that I could probably be tackled,” Berlucchi said. 

“It wasn’t until recently that I was telling the story to a friend that I realized we weren’t playing football at all,” he said. “The game we were playing is ‘smear the queer.’ And smear the queer is still being played by kids across America.” 

He noted that his experience was similar to those of other young people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, or LGBTQ. He shared statistics from the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. 

“Eighty-six percent of LGBT youth report being harassed at school,” he said. “That ratio is extraordinarily high when compared to 27 percent of all students who report being harassed at school.” 

Berlucchi commended Cox High School for creating a warm and welcoming learning environment for all its students. 

“It’s good for any institution to be more inclusive,” he said. “When you embrace your community, your community will embrace you. And that is what you have achieved with this assembly.” 

Students followed Berlucchi, joining the stage for a panel moderated by their faculty advisor, Victoria Milosevich – or “Milo” as some students referred to her throughout the night. 

 “This is my favorite part of the evening because this entire event came out of a student’s suggestion of student needs, and that’s what we’re here for tonight,” Milosevich said. “We’re here to respond to our students and what their needs are.”   

The students answered anonymous questions posed by their peers in order to assist attendees of the event in better understanding the Gay-Straight Alliance goals and to help explain why the organization views itself as a helping hand to the LGBTQ community.

“We just want to encourage people to be comfortable with who they are,” Philip Malamatos, a Cox High School senior and member of the Gay-Straight Alliance, said. “If you need a hand to reach out to, the Gay-Straight Alliance is there.”

 “It’s not about sexual orientation or gender identity,” said senior Jonah Howells, who joined the alliance after he noticed many of his peers involved in theater had done so. 

“It’s about being with one another and having a support group in the school,” Howells said. “If you’re having a rough time, come to us. We will be able to talk to you about it because we have been through some rough stuff, too.” 

Joseph Peña, a 15-year-old Cox High School student, attended the event and, shortly before it began, sat with this rainbow flag in the auditorium. Peña came to support the assembly organized by students for a simple reason: “Because love is love.” [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]
Dr. Randi Riesbeck, principal of Cox High School, and Victoria Milosevich, advisor to the Gay-Straight Alliance at the high school, are seen before the event began. [John-Henry Doucette/The Princess Anne Independent News]

© 2017 Pungo Publishing Co., LLC

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