Students from La Grande High School GSA stand underneath the Nike Equality Day slogan, Be True.

Students from La Grande High School GSA stand underneath the Nike Equality Day slogan, Be True

The students from La Grande High School, along with gay-straight alliance (GSA) advisor Brita Scott and local PFLAG chair Ryan Minor, loaded into their bus after school on a Wednesday in late April and made the long trek from eastern Oregon to the world headquarters of Nike in Beaverton so that they could take part in this year’s 10th Annual Nike Youth Forum.

Held at the Tiger Woods Center, Nike played host to nearly 500 students who participated in the daylong conference for students in GSA clubs from high schools across Oregon and southwest Washington.

To get the students from the Grande Ronde Valley was a team effort. Current grantee Oregon Safe Schools and Communities Coalition(OSCC), the Oregon chapter of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN), and Pride Foundation made the trip possible. The event is organized by the Oregon chapter of GLSEN and members of Nike’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & Friends Employee Network.

More than a school field trip, attending the forum is a way for students to feel less isolated, more connected, and safe. According to GLSEN’s annual school climate survey, “Six out of 10 lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) teens say they feel unsafe at school. Eighty-two percent of that same group says they’ve been verbally harassed because of their sexual orientation. In Oregon, only 9% of schools reported that they had a comprehensive anti-bullying/harassment policy in place that included specific protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

At Pride Foundation, we understand that 9% is unacceptable—that we can and must do better. Our grantees and coalition partners know we must do better, too. Sending these students the forum at Nike went beyond a field trip. It symbolized our community saying, “We’ve got your back.”

During the morning orientation, the master of ceremonies asked which GSA traveled the farthest. The students from La Grande High raised their hands. “We came from La Grande,” said their advisor. A momentary pause came over the audience. Many had heard of the passing of Jadin Bell of La Grande earlier this year. The emcee thanked the students and a thoughtful moment of silence was held in Bell’s honor.

After the morning session, students were treated to a day chock full of activities meant to educate and empower, including a fashion show, an inspiring talk from James Lecesne of The Trevor Project, and a panel discussion featuring recently out former soccer star Robbie Rogers.

Nearly 70 volunteers from Nike help put on the event. One Nike employee said, “This is my favorite day of the year. Seeing these kids smile and just be kids makes me happy.” The forum is one of four major public events Nike hosts each year.

After a day full of activities, fellowship, and laughter, the students from La Grande filed back onto the bus with new memories and for one student, a realization, “[Attending Nike Equality Day] meant that I am more able to be an ally for my peers. It has given me a different view on the life they lead and how hard it can be at times.”

Jett is Pride Foundation’s Regional Development Organizer in Oregon. Email Jett.

Posted In: Blog, Connecting Leaders, Blog, Oregon