BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – About 14 members of the Fort Madison Gay Straight Alliance weathered stifling heat to spread a message of unity and openness Sunday.
The group, led by Terri Holterhaus of Fort Madison, began the day down at Riverview Park at about 1:30 with a meeting before taking to the streets draped in signature rainbow flags.
Gay Straight Alliances are school, student-led or community-based organizations found primarily in North American high schools, colleges, and universities and are intended to provide a safe, supportive environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender youth or youth questioning who they are at different points in their lives.
June is National Pride Month and this weekend has seen Equality Marches throughout the country including Washington D.C.
Holterhaus said the club was just formed during the past school year under the Iowa Safe Schools laws that protect all students from bullying in any form.
“This is a new club that was just started this year and was passed through the administration through the Iowa Safe Schools,” she said. “That’s a law that provides for clubs like this.”
She said the Fort Madison Community School District administration and staff have been very supportive and very caring in helping get the group up and running.
“This is a club for everybody. You’re safe here – you can be who you are here,” she said.
Two women in the local group were just married three months ago.
“It made me feel really good to see people come together and do this in such a small town,” said Maria Tijerina of Fort Madison, who is now married to her wife, Heather.
“I lived here my whole life and been this way my whole life and I’ve never seen anything quite like this here,” she said.
Holterhaus said the club is a safe haven for everyone involved.
“Nothing bad is ever said about anyone here,” she said. “We try to get people to say other things than gay or weird, so we’re not using derogatory terms. No one has the right to condemn a person for their rights. That’s why we’re here. To let these kids know that it’s ok to be who you are.”
Fundraising is a key component of the group and Holterhaus said events like bake sales and ribbon sales are part of the process of generating funds to help send students to conferences where programming for local chapters takes place.
But she said the main purpose is to help bring people together in acceptance of each other.
“We’re all under the umbrella of human beings and everyone has the right to be who they are. Our motto is “Be You”.
Those interested in joining the club can contact Holterhaus at Fort Madison High School or on her Facebook page. The group is currently working on a GSA Facebook page.
“We’re just looking forward to anyone who wants to be themselves and be a part of our family.”
The day started down at Riverview, but then the group braved the 90+ degree heat and walked to Central Park, and then walked down to Old Settlers Park before heading down Avenue G and back up to Central Park.
“We’ve had a good walk and hopefully spread some awareness,” Holterhaus said.