Nearly a third of all students ages 12 to 18 report having been bullied, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Whether it is peer-to-peer bullying, bullying of younger by older or bullying in which a teacher is either victim or culprit, those who stand out either because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender ambiguity are often targets. To provide a safe, confidential place for individuals in Washington County -- regardless of sex, race, disability, gender, gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation -- to meet and get support, the Washington County Gay Straight Alliance Inc. was formed in November 2005. At 7:30 p.m. Saturday, the alliance is staging its first major fundraiser, a cabaret at the Olin Fine Arts Center, 285 E. Wheeling St., on the campus of Washington & Jefferson College.
The concert titled "Cabaret: So You Think You're a Diva" will feature 15 singers from the Renaissance City Choirs of Pittsburgh and three instrumentalists under the direction of Jeffry Johnson. The show includes songs made famous by legends, from Barbra Streisand to Queen.
"The concert will be staged and choreographed and include props, costumes and little bits of set pieces, even special sound effects," said Mr. Johnson, an adjunct professor of voice and piano at W&J and artistic director of the city choirs.
Kathy Cameron of Washington was the driving force behind the formation of the alliance. In 2004, when her son, Patrick, was about to enter college, one of the important elements in his research to find an appropriate school was a welcoming environment for gay students and the presence of a Gay Straight Alliance.
"I wondered why we don't have such an alliance in Washington County," Mrs. Cameron said.
The Washington alliance now has two dozen members and has started an alliance at Trinity and McGuffey high schools.
"When a student walks through our doors, we don't ask them to self-identify as to their sexuality or gender," Mrs. Cameron said. "We're not counselors or mental health professionals. ... We provide an environment where these children can feel safe and be themselves. We also try to give kids the skills to handle bullying in schools ... and stress that students report every instance of bullying to their administrators.
"All young people should be able to go to school, feel safe and be a part of a group. Our long-term goal is to establish a Welcoming Center in Washington. Eventually, we think there won't be a need for organizations such as ours."
Tickets for the cabaret are $25, $10 for students. Order online at www.wcgsa.org or at the door.
Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: email@example.com