Cayman International School student Zoe Sulisz, 17, who started the Gay Straight Alliance club at her school last year, has opened up membership to students from different schools along with any other interested youth.
Sulisz explained she started the club to help create a safe space for gay students and to build connections between gay and straight people.
“The reason for the naming of the club is because it’s not like an LGBTQ club only, it’s about LGBTQ issues. It’s about addressing those issues, opening dialogue and creating a safe space,” she said, adding she has always wanted to start a club like this on island.
“I see how generally homophobic our community is and even though I’m Caymanian and I support the culture, I do believe that we need to be more open. We need to be more open-minded and we need to cut the homophobia out of this,” Sulisz said.
She set out with the support of her school to create a safe space for everyone. She said this year she decided to expand club membership beyond CIS.
“After meeting with [advocacy group] Colours Cayman, I’ve decided to open it up. I have about 20 kids from a bunch of different schools. We’re trying to work with Colours to make it almost like an official programme because, right now, it’s just almost like a social youth group,” she said.
Sulisz, who is also part of the Alex Panton Foundation’s Youth Ambassadors Programme, said homophobia on the island is affecting young people.
“I think a big point that should be stressed on island is that we need to work on being more inclusive, and we need to stop being so afraid. This has always been swept under the rug, no matter what,” Sulisz said.
She noted that the Gay Straight Alliance club is open to both straight and gay people, adding that the biggest misconception about the club is that only gay people can join.
“They hear the first word and then they completely neglect the second word. They don’t realise that you can be a part of the club and be straight; you could be an ally and just really want to make a difference on the island,” Sulisz said.
Billie Bryan, president of Colours Cayman, said the two groups have already started working together and hope to collaborate on the development of an educational centre and shelter for youth.
“We’re hoping to work with her and her group on developing more youth-oriented programming and provide resources to them, such as accommodation and refreshments for their regular social gatherings, collaborating with other like-minded organisations, such as [the Crisis Centre’s] TAYA Lounge and the Family Resource Centre, and bringing a wider variety of educational workshops to a broader audience,” Bryan said.
She added that clubs and programmes that support LGBTQ youth are crucial.
“Queer youth around the world are statistically at much higher risk of being victims of mental illness, bullying, domestic abuse, rape, suicide and far more. Anyone who has any concern for these issues should give even more consideration to the children, teens and adolescents who are disproportionately affected by them,” Bryan said.