BLACKFOOT — Two Blackfoot High School students have kicked off an effort to end the intimidation some pupils feel while trying to discover their sexual identity. And while the program began as a gender-equal enterprise, it has taken on a life of its own and now covers racial, religious and personal discrimination.
Erick Wood, 18, a senior, and sophomore Madison Thompson, 16, are both members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a family-oriented and conservative institution. According to Madison, there are many church members in the BHS student body.
“Many of them are very good people, but we don’t always see the other person’s point of view,” she said. “Often, church members will just stick to their own kind and don’t go outside of that circle. It’s not just an LDS thing, a lot of groups are oblivious to other people. Anyone can get caught up in narrow-mindedness.”
Prompted by that observation and also by a contest sponsored by the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual & Domestic Violence, the pair approached members of the school administration with the idea. They sought permission to hang posters and to hold a volunteer assembly, which the students could choose to attend or not.
“Principal (John) Pearce and many instructors were totally behind us,” said Wood, who also serves as an editor on the school newspaper. “I realized I needed to set an example. The school is a tough nut to crack, because while there are many great students and teachers here and this is very close-knit community, there is an element of bullying that takes place and a lot of people are separated. We are trying to make this about respecting everyone and everyone’s right to have their own opinions and lifestyles.”
Wood admitted posters provided by the coalition, which read, “Gender Revolution,” made many think the presentation was all about the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender cause. “First and foremost, it was about gender equality, since we have two transgender students at our school,” he said. “But we also wanted people to speak their minds and also have respect for other people’s ideas, as well.”
Wood added that he himself was a victim of bullying, saying he was treated differently because he spoke with a lisp and was assumed to be something he was not.
“I shrugged it off because the way I was raised,” he said. “You know, kind of a ‘turn the other cheek’ thing. But because I kept it to myself, it took me much longer to make friends. If you or anyone is being threatened or bullied, tell some immediately. A teacher, a parent an adult you know and trust. Just tell someone so the cycle can end.”
Thompson agreed. “The assembly really clarified a lot of things for people,” she said. “We received a lot more support than people who disagreed with us.” She added that if the two were to win the prize money for the contest, it would be donated to the school’s counseling department.
For his part, Pearce indicated that he was extremely proud of the efforts by the two pupils and by those who attended the presentation. “It was a very positive message and seemed to be very well-received,” he said. “They maintained that it was OK to be different and for everyone to be able to share their experiences. It was a great message and they seemed to have struck a chord. It was definitely a message that needed to be said.”
The next related event is a workshop that will take place at the school today at 1 p.m. According to Wood, it’s a meeting where students can share stories and ideas in a safe, friendly, non-judgmental environment.
Two days later, on Friday, a group of pupils will march from Blackfoot High to Jensen’s Grove, escorted by a group of local law enforcement officials.