PRISM hosts first assembly, promotes LGBTQ+ youth awareness


Fareen Dhuka

Al Amado, the founder of the non-profit organization Tony’s Place, speaks at PRISM’s first assembly on Dec. 11 about the importance of supporting homeless LGBTQ+ youth.

Ashley Yen and Gabrielle Solymosy

At 5 a.m. on Dec. 11, Al Amado woke up and asked Siri about the day’s weather. He proceeded to take a shower, eat breakfast and get dressed, all while preparing to speak at an assembly later that day. While Amado has the luxury of waking up in a warm, comfortable bed every morning, the people at Tony’s Place, a non-profit organization that serves as an emergency shelter for LGBTQ+ youth, are not as fortunate.

PRISM, a club that supports all students of the LGBTQ+ community and allies, hosted Amado, founder of Tony’s Place, as their guest speaker at their first assembly. PRISM aims to provide a supportive space for LGBTQ+ students and allies, to educate and create awareness about LGBTQ+ issues and to ensure equity in all aspects of campus life.

“For me, having an assembly [is] the first step towards being recognized and open on the St. John’s campus; the first step to promoting a safe and inclusive environment at our school for LGBTQ+ youth,” PRISM board member Matthew Yekell said.

When PRISM sponsor Clay Guinn began teaching English at St. John’s, he was determined to make sure any student questioning their identity felt protected and welcomed. According to Guinn, over the past four years, PRISM has attracted LGBTQ+ allies to the club in addition to members of the LGBTQ+ community themselves.

“There was a point where there was the worry that being associated with PRISM said something about your identity, and I hope for a lot of students, that’s changing,” Guinn said.

During the assembly, PRISM board members shared quotes from LGBTQ+ youth in the St. John’s community.

“We wanted to share the quotes because we felt like it was important for the St. John’s community as a whole to see St. John’s student life from our eyes,” Yekell, a junior, said.

Seniors and PRISM board members Clara Brotzen-Smith and Lilah Gaber also discussed the importance of fostering an inclusive and welcoming atmosphere for LGBTQ+ students.

“PRISM has given me a community that I wouldn’t have had elsewhere, and it’s given me a safe place to talk about my own problems and talk to people who have gone through the same things I have,” Yekell said. “That’s been an invaluable experience for me.”

At the end of the assembly, Yekell shared an opportunity for the St. John’s community to support Amado and Tony’s Place. As part of his independent study project, which focuses on helping children who are not part of an accepting community, Yekell worked with Community Service Coordinator Marci Bahr to organize a drive for Tony’s Place. Yekell will be collecting items such as clothes, toiletries, chargers, batteries and gently used backpacks until Jan. 18 to donate to Tony’s Place.

According to Guinn, presenting their ideas in a delicate tone proved to be a challenge while organizing the PRISM assembly.

“We thought a lot about how to present LGBTQ+ culture and history in the assembly and whether we should try and educate or entertain the students,” Guinn said. “The students ended up with the perfect tone — the assembly was funny, thought-provoking and community-building. Most importantly, it showed us what we can do as allies to help this important cause: kids in need.”