Loudoun has a safe place for all

Riley Schappell and her mom, Lori Stevens, who is on DC PFLAG's board of directors. Schappell said her fellow students were hesitant to take part in a gay-straight alliance.
Riley Schappell and her mom, Lori Stevens, who is on DC PFLAG's board of directors. Schappell said her fellow students were hesitant to take part in a gay-straight alliance. (Family Photo)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 20, 2011

Loudoun County students and families dealing with sexual identity issues have a new place to seek support and a sense of community.

Metro DC PFLAG, an area chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, a national support organization for people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, is launching a support group in Loudoun County on Sunday with a kickoff celebration in Sterling, said Lori Stevens, a vice president on Metro DC PFLAG's board of directors.

The group, called Loudoun Out Loud, will meet once a month.

Stevens, who has been working for the past year to establish the group, said she became particularly aware of the need for such a support system in Loudoun after her daughter Riley Schappell told her that students at Potomac Falls High were hesitant to participate in a gay-straight alliance group at the school.

Schappell, 16, a "straight ally" who became involved in the group in part because her grandmother is a lesbian, said she found it difficult to persuade other students to join.

"They don't want to be labeled," Schappell said of the students. "People think they're going to be seen there, and everyone will hear about it."

The situation worsened for the Potomac Falls group after it made a video last year in which members tried to make a point about discouraging use of the negative phrase "that's so gay" by saying "that's so straight" instead. The video was greeted with ridicule by most students, Schappell said.

"A lot of kids were making fun of it, and that sort of thing doesn't help," she said.

Timothy Willmot, a drama teacher at Broad Run High in Ashburn, said that he saw the school's gay-straight alliance club struggle to stay afloat over the past 10 years. At first, faculty members would take turns sponsoring the group, but then the club wound up without a sponsor, he said.

"Now it's sort of evaporated. It's gone," Willmot said. "Kids don't know where to turn."

Willmot said that he has spoken to students who came out after graduation and told him that they couldn't be open about their sexual identities during high school.

"They often say, 'I didn't feel safe,' " he said.


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