At least 100 West Linn High School students walked out of class Friday in support of the school’s LGBTQ community.
West Linn’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance led the walkout. GSA president Susie Walters said students felt unsafe and ready to stand up against what they describe as an unaccepting school culture.
“I have faced, on school property and in our community, from West Linn students, I’ve faced people yelling slurs at me, and calling me names,” Walters said.
Senior Billie Henderson’s car was vandalized – the word queer was written on their back windshield. They say the students involved were punished.
To show strength, Walters, Henderson and their classmates walked out.
“We walked out to show our student pride,” Henderson said. “To show that despite everything we’ve been through, we are still proud of who we are. And we won’t back down and we won’t make exceptions for anyone.”
The district says about 25 students unaffiliated with the demonstration left class “to observe the walkout.”
In an email to families sent Friday, West Linn principal Greg Neuman said they support students' First Amendment rights but does not encourage these types of demonstrations.
Senior and GSA vice president Mara Buchanan-Hovland said the event remained positive, even when students shared challenging experiences.
“We really did try to make this like a pride event,” Buchanan-Hovland said. “We tried to make it a celebration of who we are and saying that we’re going to make this community as amazing as we possibly can, and that we’re going to support LBGTQ students.”
State representative Rachel Prusak, D-West Linn, and state senator Rob Wagner, D-Lake Oswego, sent a statement in support of the students.
“Every student at West Linn High School deserves to feel safe at school and in their community,” Rep. Prusak said.
Students said the walkout wasn’t to protest inaction – Walters has been talking to the West Linn principal for the last few weeks. It was to support students and reiterate the need for a safe and loving environment for students, said senior Grant Halverson.
“We have been making those efforts,” Halverson said. “It’s just what comes after – it’s the steps, what do you have to do now? And what do you have to do after that?”
Walters said there are plans to place inclusive symbols in classrooms, like pride flags and “safe space” signs.
But Walters has a couple of requests to the district – a diversity director on the school campus and LGBTQ history curriculum.
“If it has to go through the Oregon Senate, I’ll take it to the legislature,” Walters said.