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Humboldt man spearheads LGBTQ booster club

HUMBOLDT — Recently, a casual first in the park at Humboldt was something John Grause never envisioned in his wildest dreams while growing up in his hometown in the 1970s: an LGBTQ Pride event.

“There were no resources, no refuge, no integration of even a suggestion that you were (LGBT),” when he grew up there, he said.

But with cancellation of the usual urban events held in June around the country during Pride Month — when lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and other members under the rainbow umbrella celebrate being able to live as their open, authentic selves without fear — he saw an opportunity to hold what may have been the only Pride event in Iowa this year.

Grause said being able to plan the event two weeks ago, which garnered a respectable, socially-distanced attendance, was inconceivable until events in places like Des Moines, Omaha, Cedar Rapids and Minneapolis were canceled due to COVID-19.

But the event was more than a celebration of being able to simply exist as you are. The inaugural Humboldt Pride raised $1,220 and gained another $1,600 in annual pledges to help students at Humboldt High School be who they are, too, at an often challenging and pivotal stage in life for LGBTQ people.

The new LGBTQ Booster Club was born at Pride on June 26, where club officials were elected and locals gathered to hear about past and present struggles in the community while celebrating the differences — not stereotypes — that bring vibrancy to the world. Grause said the funding will be used to create a resource library, give a scholarship to a graduating senior student each year and allow students to hold social events.

“People need to stand up and people need to speak out to make the world a better place for everybody,” Grause said.

He said that feedback received so far from questioning people and those who cannot be openly LGBTQ has helped him realize the tremendous impact that simply being visible has on those who can’t afford to be amid an often subtle culture of discrimination, bias, rejection and even overt hatred.

The Gay Straight Alliance’s status at Humboldt High School, existing strictly as a non-sponsored school group, led Grause to try to raise money to help develop resources for the group.

After donating Humboldt-earmarked money to Iowa Safe Schools, a state organization dedicated to providing services and support to LGBTQ and other at-risk students in Iowa, Grause said the money apparently never made it there. Even if it had, he was told by local school officials that the money would not be given to the non-sponsored group.

“They definitely minced words,” Grause said, noting that while the stance may not have been strictly discriminatory, the lack of stable funding has posed difficulties to the group for years.

Grause said that the GSA started seven years ago, one of the few signs of drastic improvement in LGBTQ equality and recognition in Humboldt, had received “zero support and zero acceptance,” moving him to step up to help.

“(The school) will allow the club to exist in the building … but they can’t receive funding because they’re not tied to curriculum,” said Shelly Powers, guidance counselor at Humboldt High School.

She said that after fighting to justify their very existence and activities like conferences that help educate the students, the GSA would like to become sponsored. That funding helps student groups attend conferences and travel to other events.

“Yes we can have (the group), but we’re only going to support you to a certain degree,” is the sentiment Powers said she hears from students.

Nonetheless, she said the club’s very existence is important in itself to students at a time when kids on the LGBT spectrum are still sometimes kicked out of their homes after being outed or coming out to parents. Safety remains a top concern to those students in a way that their heterosexual counterparts don’t have to think about.

For that reason, it’s broadly emphasized that the Gay Straight Alliance, with between 10 and 20 regular attendees, also includes allies, to avoid outing those who want to be involved but can’t if it means coming out of the closet in high school.

“Students often can’t tell parents how they identify,” she said, for fear of their immediate safety or shelter.

But having the group there means that students know there are people like them and people who support the community in the building who they can go to when they need it most.

“I think that’s huge,” she said.

Secondary but still significant to students is fear of judgment for simply being who they are, an innate characteristic they cannot change.

In a world where anger and hatred is on full display, Powers said the support she witnessed during Humboldt Pride gives her hope for her students in an evolving world.

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