Youth Equity Podcast: Amplifying Youth Voice Season Two Ep 2

Published February 2nd, 2024

The students of the G.S.A. (GS Slay) at Thomas A. Edison Career and Technical High School in Jamaica, Queens celebrate the work and life of their staff advisor, Rosemary Gick-Von Ohlen, on the cusp of her retirement from the school and the club.

This podcast was developed through the Youth Equity Art of the Podcast residency funded by the New York City Council. It was developed by History UnErased and Houses on the Moon Theater Company in partnership with the New York City Department of Education.


Lux: You are listening to GS Slay, the official podcast of the GSA at Thomas A. Edison Career in Technical High School, the GSA that slays.
Preston: Hello. Welcome to our podcast GS Slay. My name is Preston. Happy to be here.
Miles: Hi, my name is Miles. And you may be asking yourself, why are we doing this? Well, we have a mission and our mission is to make other people, whether they're in our situations or not, feel welcome and accepted and included in their own skin. And we aim to educate anybody and everybody to understand better what their family, friends, loved ones and even themselves are dealing with and how to help them.
Lux: Okay guys. So hello, my name is Lux and today we have a very, very special guest with us today, Ms. Rosemary Gick-vVn Ohlen, who has been advising our GSA for three years. Ms. Rosemary has been a valued member of our GSA and she has always been there for us when we need to vent talk or just kind of sit there and learn math. She is an important member because she's doing this out of the kindness of her heart, because her herself is not queer. But we'll talk more into that later. But today is Ms. Rosemary's very last day, not just in GSA, but also at her school because she's retiring and we're feeling a lot of feelings. But yeah, I think we should just get into you. Would you like to say Hi, Ms. Rosemary?
Rosemary: Hi, and thanks for taking the time to interview me. It's been a pleasure beyond a pleasure to advise this club.
Miles; I'm going to start with some questions. Why did you choose to be the advisor of GSA?
Rosemary: There's absolutely nobody else on the staff who wanted to do it. We had a GSA many years ago and he left to become an assistant principal at another school and when we tried to bring the program back, we weren't successful the first year. Then we tried again and that's when I decided that we're just going to stick with this and keep on going. Nobody wanted it, so I wanted it anyway.

Miles: So did you ever see yourself as being an advisor or the advisor of GSA before you started?

Rosemary: I don't know. I think so. I think I would've stepped up for any club that didn't have an advisor, but I do have a special place for the community, the L-B-G-T-Q community. I will not say that word, that Q word, but you already know that.
Rosemary: Plus community plus community. I'm sorry. No, you're good. Alright. I could see me doing this. I would step up for any club.
Preston: So have you seen the school change since you started working around LGBTQ+ issues?
Rosemary: I do because it's more talked about. We have posters in classrooms, we have teachers who are more aware. We have a curriculum that's inclusive. This was not here 14 years ago when I arrived. It was never discussed. It was never, well, let's go on a trip to a monument for somebody who's a member of the community. We just did our regular thing, never thought about it. We still have a long way to go and it's a big part of the health curriculum now. It's still a long way to go. I know everybody was upset that it wasn't enough, but at least it's being touched upon now. So I see those changes a lot.
Preston: That was an amazing sentiment. Have you changed as a person since you come to work with us?
Rosemary: I, I got to be a better person. I never met a group of kids like my GSA! love all of you. I will miss all of you. I've been involved in a lot of organizations through the years and no organization or club that I was involved with touched me the way GSA did. I learned more from you than you could ever possibly learned from me.

Lux: So from my understanding, you have a son who is also part of the LGBTQ+ community. So we just wanted to ask a question of how was that, you don't have to get into it if you don't want to too into it, but just how was that for you, your family? How was that like process?
Rosemary: I'll tell you, my son had girlfriends all through college, went out with a girl for two and a half years. So I was quite shocked. And I will tell you, and as I've told you, it's not an easy journey for a parent because you have all these pictures in your head with a female, with the house, with two children. That has to change now. It would be with a male, maybe there will be no children. And it's like anything, any other change in life, it's a process. You're not going to get over it overnight. I would never throw my son out of the house.

I accepted it - took a while, but I got there and I just remind you, your parents need time. They need time because they have these pictures in their minds too. So when all of that changes, it becomes scrambled. My biggest fear was what is he up against in the rest of the world? I knew my friends and family would be all right with it, but I know that there's a lot of people who are racist and prejudice and they don't like that. They don't like the community. That was my biggest fear of what he's going to be up against in the rest of the world. I never feared anywhere at home, anywhere else. So I got there, it took a while, but I got there and I did not tell my story right away because it's really nobody's business. I don't feel, I have to say my daughter is straight, so why would I have to tell you my son is gay?

Because it really doesn't have anything to do with anything. And I told my story to my first year GSA, when I asked, do you want a guest speaker? We have a gay congressman in the Bronx. We could get him to come down. And Valerie, one of my students said, oh no, I want a regular gay male from New York City. And that's when I jumped in and said, I could help with that because the club is really all about you. So I waited to tell my story at an appropriate time and the story just now is around everybody knows it and telling the story helps you come to terms with a lot of things.

Lux: Thank you for that. Right. That was a snap to that kind of moment. Thank you for that. And I really do appreciate that because I do think a lot of people agree with that sentiment, that statement that a lot of parents need their time and also have these mental images, this different perception of what their child's life is going to be like when they were born. And it's all based on this one thing. Going off of that, how did GSA really start at this school? Because you said that nobody else would pick it up, but do you have any other experience? I know you've been at the school for a while. How many years have you been at the school? 14. 14. And only three of those years you've been teaching or advising? GSA. So was it always here? Did it stop? 
Rosemary: It was here. It stopped when the teacher was advising. When he took a position as an assistant principal at another school, then we tried to resurrect it. When a student came to me, she found out I was looking to do a club. I originally wanted to do Glamour Girl your favorite because they do the nails of the ladies at the nursing home. And I'm a big fan of Fancy Nails, but somebody with more seniority got that club. So they came to me to start A GSA, but we didn't have too many people interested. And at the time I needed 10. I had two people for two weeks and they said, that's it. End of discussion. And then as the years were passing, there were more students coming out and saying, I'm transgender, I'm gay, I'm bisexual. So the need, because everybody was finally talking about this that hey, we could do this, we could get this together and they'll leave me alone even if I'm under 10 because there's a very big need for it now. There probably was a need many years ago. It's just that everybody was very silent about it.
Preston: Have you ever gotten resistance to talking about LGBTQ+ issues at school or in the community, outside at home, anywhere in general.
Rosemary: Not so much in school because they know that I stand my ground. They know the deal, they know that they know the deal. I pay them. So they know that no, that's a joke. But they know that I stand my ground if I say this is this, that's the end of it. So they would never question why I am doing this. Most teachers have been pretty accepting outside. I have had some pushback and comments, but I really, I choose not to bother with those people. I have to see them at certain events because of a spillover of relatives. I say hello and that's the end of that.
Lux: Okay. I actually have press a question for you, Preston. Are there any Ms. Rosemary stories or instances with Ms. Rosemary or experiences or anything that you would feel comfortable sharing at the moment?
Preston: I remember the first time I walked into GSA was during my sophomore year and I only came around a handful of times because of my home situation. But the first day, Ms. GI immediately made me feel welcome. She didn't pressure me to telling anybody anything about myself. She told me that I could just sit in the back and I could just listen for the day and I could speak whenever I felt comfortable. And I really liked that because that showed that she actually cared and that she wasn't going to push us to do anything we didn't want to do. And then on top of that, every single time ever spoken to Mr. Y, it is always been a delight because she's always welcoming. If I have a problem, she'll advise me in any way she can or she'll try to help. And I really love that because not a lot of people actually put that effort in to really give queer youth or youth in general the time of day to even say hello.
Lux: What do you think makes this specific GSA so special? Because there's so many around and that's a really good thing now, but what makes our GSA at this school so special and so special to you?
Rosemary: Well, I think because we are a very small group and we've been together two years now and everybody here looks out for each other. I know if I'm in the hall, if I see Preston, chances are I'm going to see you. I'm going to see Miles. I'm going to see Chase a you sort of band together like your own little gang. I love that and I like that. I see friendships. It's just not about sitting here as a GSA. I see true friendships.
Lux; All right. I definitely, I love that. What about you, Vincent? I love that about GSA.
Preston: I really appreciate you so much, Ms. GI because since we've met you, you've been so supportive and you constantly show us that you actually care. You're always asking how we're doing, how our lives are going. You actually take the time to see if something's going on and you will try your best to get any solution you can. Do you have any advice for other schools that want to start A GSA?
Rosemary: Yes, I do. Keep it going. Don't give up. Don't listen to what administration has to say. You don't have enough students. Go out and find some funding. It's out there and just hang in there. Even if you have one or two students every week, it's a very big need. Just keep it going, keep it going.
Lux; One thing I wish for the future of this GSA is just that more people kind of come together and don't overlook it quite like I did at the beginning and just kind of give it a chance. Go at least once. And if you don't like, if it's not your thing, that's fine. Then to each their own, no one's going to judge you for it, but also know that you're not going to be judged here and that this is an open place for you and we're a community. We've become like family and just give it a shot. Try it out. You'll never know. Even if you're questioning, if you're straight, whatever it is, and you're an ally and you want to show up and show out and kind of just show your support, go ahead and give it your best shot.
Preston: One thing I would like for the future of this GSA is definitely for more people to feel like they have others out there that are just like them. Because I know while students do know there is a GSA, and while others are aware that there's communities out there, they still don't feel like there are really people out there like them. Because while we are all so different, we do have similarities between us and we don't have to feel scared to interact with one another because in the end of the day, we're all just people. It's all right to feel scared, but slowly at your own pace, come out of your shell and we'll support you 10000%.
Rosemary; I hope that the GSA is here to stay, that we don't have to regroup again. Hopefully more students will come out and join or at least see what we're all about. That's what I hope.
Preston; Is there anything we have not asked that you would be comfortable sharing with us?
Rosemary: Yes. I love all of you. It's been a pleasure to be part of this. GSAI don't. I will miss every one of you. I will be available. I'll give you email, I'll give you a phone number. It doesn't matter. Just because I'm leaving, I still know where the resources are. It's much more than a club. I know where to go for help. And you'll have Ms. Michael also. You're going to love her too. She's my bestie here, and that's it. Just hang in there. We're going to get through this. It's the best of times and it's the worst of times. It's much better than it was years ago. But we also, no matter what's going on, there's always going to be something else that you're going to face. But we're getting there. We're getting there, and I'm proud to be part of this. Very proud.
Lux; All right, well, thank you so much, Ms. G, for donating your time today and coming in for this interview. But we really do appreciate you. We appreciate everything that you've done for us. We love you too. Like Preston said, you're like a grandmother figure, you're like a family figure to us at this point because we've just known you for a while and automatically you made me feel welcome. And I've always said this, I've, I was very skeptical in freshman year about the GSA, did not want to go at all. Then ended up going, and here I am now making a podcast for the GSA. 
Rosemary: I'm glad you gave it a shot. I'm glad you did. I'm glad you did. I have the best GSA in New York City. Very small, but very, I have the best. I always had the best.
Preston: We'll miss you, Miss G, and we'll never forget you. Thank you. Thank you. Now to conclude, this is GSA Slay. I said GSA, I meant G. S Slay.
Lux: ThIs is GS Slay. This podcast was developed through the youth equity art of the podcast residency funded by the New York City Council. It was developed by history and race in houses on the moon in partnership with the New York City Department of Education. Thanks to our outgoing GSA advisor, Rosemary Wan Olin, for her endless support, and to our incoming advisor, Eva Michael, if you would like to find our GSA, then come to room 2 0 4 on Tuesdays at 3:30 PM or find Ms. Michael in room 1 32. You are listening to GS Slay the official podcast of the GSA at Thomas A. Edison Career and Technical High School.