Cheney: YouTube video highlights teen’s activism

Tyler Oakley, left, and Aaron Mounts lead a town hall discussion on May 10. Footage from the town hall is included in a video that Oakley, a YouTube celebrity, recently released.

By Sam Jack

CHENEY – Recent Cheney High School graduate Aaron Mounts’ efforts to start a GSA (gender/sexuality alliance) club at his school were the focus of a video feature from well-known YouTube personality Tyler Oakley.

Oakley published the video June 26, and by noon Monday it had been viewed more than 71,000 times.

“Having a safe space to be yourself is vital, especially in a place like middle or high school, where young people are just trying to find their identities among bullies, cliques and social norms,” Oakley said in the video. “Today, many schools have a GSA club that allows LGBTQ-plus students and their allies to meet, make friends and discuss issues tied to their unique identities.”

Mounts came out as gay in middle school, and he started advocating for a GSA club at Cheney High School after observing a lack of resources and support during his freshman year, he said in the video.

Cheney High School’s policy was and continues to be that only “curricular” clubs such as Spanish Club, Art Club and Scholars Bowl can meet on campus during school hours. Mounts argues that a GSA should be allowed to meet during school because it addresses issues that are particular to the school setting, such as bullying and emotional security among students.

Two Cheney High School teachers – art teacher Shawny Montgomery and English/communications teacher Ann Asbury – appeared in the video, offering support and saying that they would be willing to sponsor a GSA.

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“As adults, we have a responsibility to help these kids,” Asbury said. “With anything, (whether) a sponsorship of a group or in our classrooms, you’re pushing them to be independent, but we have to be the ones to give them the help so they’re not afraid.”

Cheney High School principal Greg Rosenhagen said in the video that he doesn’t view CHS as “a threatening place to come to.”

“I think what I see on a daily basis is acceptance with everybody. I don’t see labels on people to where that group can’t do that, or can’t associate here, or whatever,” Rosenhagen said.

Having seen the finished video, Mounts said he did not think Rosenhagen was being intentionally negative, but he wishes there could be more recognition among school leaders that bullying and exclusion of LGBT students is an ongoing issue.

“My hope is that they can institute policies that do help LGBT students, and all students who are bullied at our school,” Mounts said. “Recognizing the problem is the first step, so I really want the school to recognize the issue and start to take action.”

After Rosenhagen viewed the video, he said that he did not have much to add to what he said in it.

“My overlying thing is that I really appreciate our students, Aaron included, who are receptive and tolerant of other diversity groups or of people who aren’t exactly like them,” Rosenhagen said. “That goes for our staff, too. They lend an ear when concerns are brought about. I think it’s a really good environment within our building, and I have students and staff to credit for that.”

Oakley’s video also shows Mounts and classmates holding a GSA organizing meeting at Cheney Lanes, and it includes footage from a public town hall meeting that was held in a barn near Cheney.

“The adults of Cheney should stand up, that are in support of LGBTQ, so that the kids in Cheney that want to come out can put a name and a face,” Cheney resident Tanya Shryock said during the town hall. “They’ll see us in stores or at concerts. So, if you guys would, stand up with me and say, ‘Yes, this is who we are.’”

Adult allies at the meeting stood up. Oakley said he found that encouraging. “I’m so inspired by how many people came out and participated and spoke up, showing that they want to make this place better.”

Mounts, son of Travis Mounts, and of Jessica Mounts and Jeff Conley, will attend Wichita State University in the fall and plans to major in political science.

To view the YouTube video, visit https://youtu.be/-DnCqaiji64.