Luke is one of three student organizers of the new club at Teton High School in Driggs. They use they/them pronouns, and we’re only using their first name in this story at their request.
Luke said the idea to start the group came from their feeling that Teton Valley isn’t always a safe place for LGBTQ-identifying youth—even though it’s considered by some to be a liberal bubble.
“Although it’s more liberal than the rest of Idaho, then it’s still like you’re comparing like you’re comparing, like, two shades of gray,” they said.
Luke said they haven’t faced much personal discrimination at school but that they’re often sticking up for other students. So, they’re hoping a new Gay-Straight Alliance group will help.
“I just hope that our club can promote an idea of acceptance among our student body and that maybe that through possibly like friends of friends joining, that maybe they can like start to sympathize with the ideas and create kind of a more wholesome, accepting, friendly culture,” they said.
However, the main hitch is that the club hasn’t been approved by the board of the Teton School District yet, which has to give a greenlight to all new student groups. And Luke’s worried it might not go through because they’ve heard there are adults in the community who oppose the group for political or religious reasons.
“Fortunately, there’s a good amount of allies within the school, and that’s very helpful,” Luke said. “But ultimately, as predicted, there’s pushback within the community. And I just hope that we can get this established before it gets out of control.”
Luke didn’t want to get specific about the pushback.
Teton High School principal Samuel Zogg said he doesn’t see why the board wouldn’t approve the group. But he also said he can’t predict the vote.
“I don’t know how our board will react,” Zogg said. “[And] the community—I don’t know.”
The school board declined to comment for this story.
KHOL also asked Zogg about Luke’s concerns about bullying, which come during a national wave of anti-LGBTQ, and specifically anti-transgender, legislation.
“Every student needs to feel safe here at school, and we work through those issues as they come up. And we want to make sure every student has a safe place,” Zogg said. “I mean, they can identify however they identify themselves, but we want them to be here [and] be safe at school. You know, the main purpose of being at school is to be at school.”
Luke said they think legislation like the bill Idaho’s State House passed earlier this year, which would have criminalized providing gender affirming healthcare for transgender youth, violate basic human rights. That bill was later halted by the Idaho State Senate, but it’s still part of the reason why Luke is so inspired to organize.
“I believe that if we can push our voice out there and become something, like, bigger, frankly, for lack of a better word, then I feel we may be able to kind of… touch the sympathetic hearts of parents,” Luke said. “And maybe we can influence them to change their minds on the LGBTQ+ issue, especially with the denial of trans health care.”
Moving forward, Luke’s first priority is getting the club approved. They even have a name picked out that plays on Teton High’s mascot, the Timberwolves: Pride of The Pack. But the club isn’t on the agenda for an upcoming school board meeting yet.
Principal Zogg said part of the holdup is because the school’s legal advisors had to review the club’s request to have the Family Safety Network, a community nonprofit, involved.
“We’ve never had an outside agency be part of our clubs. So, we were looking at that and how that [would work] because we had nothing written in policy about that,” Zogg said.
The principal also said the school needs to confirm who the group’s teacher advisor will be.
In the meantime, Luke is encouraging community members to ask the school board to support the group, even though they acknowledge some residents might not agree. They also hope the club’s formation will not only help improve the culture of Teton High School, but also push for change in the greater Teton Valley community.
“Ultimately, it’s about promoting, like, peace and acceptance, not about making people feel threatened by our presence.”
KHOL’s Kyle Mackie contributed to this story.