When students from Goodman Middle School in Gig Harbor decided to exercise their free-speech rights before Tuesday’s election, they got a peek into the reality of political campaigning.
At the busy intersection of Point Fosdick and Olympic drives, a handful of kids waved signs in support of Referendum 74, the same-sex marriage ballot measure.
“The majority of (drivers) were honking and giving a thumbs-up,” said 13-year-old Goodman eighth-grader Clarice Bethke. “A few insulted us.”
But Clarice and her friends stood their ground. The next time they visited the intersection with their signs, they found a group of high school students already there supporting the ballot measure that won approval from a majority of Washington voters Tuesday.
“It was kind of cool,” Clarice said of her first experience in participatory democracy.
Clarice’s advocacy of the ballot measure was personal as well as political.
As someone who identifies as a gay teen, she has heard the whispers from other kids: “It’s not direct. But you hear rumors.”
That’s why she and her mom, Darby Bethke, decided to launch an after-school club at Goodman called the Rainbow Club.
The group held its second meeting last week. Clarice is its president.
The Rainbow Club – named for the internationally recognized symbol of gay pride – is modeled after the national Gay-Straight Alliance network. The organization supports youths across the nation who are working to fight against harassment of gay students and educate the wider community.
“There were 20 kids at that first meeting,” Darby Bethke said. “I was surprised there would be so many.”
When her daughter came out more than a year ago, Bethke said, she “ran into adversity from other kids.”
She said some people have told her that Clarice was too young to take such an important step, and that she might change her mind when she’s older. Mom disagrees: “If someone says they are gay at 12, they’re gay. It’s not something fun to be.”
Mother and daughter wanted to start the Rainbow Club “for both gay and straight people – so other kids will know,” Darby Bethke said.
She said a few members of the Rainbow Club talked about how they are bullied for dressing differently and “looking gay,” even though they’re not.
Clarice and other club members say their No. 1 goal is to reduce the hostility they face. They want to place posters around school to deliver messages of tolerance.
“We need to send out a message that everyone can dress how they want, and say stuff, as long as they are not hurting everyone else,” Clarice said.
The students are eager to tackle big issues, but they also want Rainbow Club to be a place where kids – gay and straight – can have fun, watch movies and socialize.
With passage of the referendum, Clarice said she feels “there’s a future for me and other people like me. There’s equality. That makes me happy.”Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635