Michelle Dellorso saw a noticeable difference in her daughter when she became involved with the Tuscola High School Gay Straight Alliance. Dellorso didn’t know much about what the club did, but could see the effect it was having on her daughter. “I saw her really starting to come out of her shell. She was a very shy, socially awkward person and she really started becoming herself.” The club decided to host a spirit week at school, encouraging those who wanted to participate to wear a specified color each day. “It started getting a lot of hate on Facebook,” says Dellorso. “People were saying that the students were being forced to learn about gay culture, and students were being forced to participate, which totally was not true.”
Dellorso was angry, and that got her thinking about how student clubs are supported at the school. “All these other clubs in schools have parents that support them. In Tuscola, the 'PowWows' are the parents of the athletes and there are music boosters…I was like, nobody's out there supporting these kids.” She gathered three others and decided to create a booster club specifically for the Tuscola GSA. With no idea how to start a booster club, they went to Google and learned how to start one. They came up with bylaws, presented their proposal to the school board, and got approval in January of 2020.
Fundraising is a part of their mission, but their purpose is bigger than that. Dellorso says it’s to “be in the community and promote awareness and show that everybody deserves equality and justice no matter who they are.” Even though the group launched just before the pandemic, they’ve already been very active. Because LGBTQ+ youth have higher rates of suicide, they hosted a suicide awareness benefit in partnership with a couple of local businesses to raise money for their local mental health department. They’ve also helped the school club in small yet important ways. They purchase t-shirts for the members and have held pizza parties and paid for them to go get ice cream and do other social activities. They’ve arranged to have speakers come and share with the group. Their most visible action so far has been their Color Run 5K.
Last year’s inaugural run drew over 100 participants, and they raised $1000, which will be put into a scholarship fund for GSA students. This year, the event is going to extend throughout the entire day. The 2nd Annual Pound the Pavement for Pride 5k Color Run/Walk is this Saturday, June 18th. The race will begin at 7:30 a.m., and will be followed by a pancake and sausage breakfast. The breakfast is included with your race registration, though folks who aren’t running and are just there to support can purchase a ticket for the breakfast. Dellorso is also a member of the Tuscola Odd Fellows Lodge, so the booster club teamed up with the Odd Fellows and scheduled the annual Odd Market on the same day. After the morning’s events, you can check out the work of more than 20 makers and artists.
The most exciting addition is a drag show, Queens in the Corn, featuring Carrina Carrington, Raven Starlings, and several other area drag performers. There will also be students performing. Some of the drag performers will be helping them get ready for the show. The performers are volunteering their time, so all proceeds will benefit the booster club.
Dellorso hopes this year’s run, and especially the drag show, will bring some visibility to the work they are doing, and hopefully encourage others to join their cause. They are still very small, and only a few of their members are residents of Tuscola. It’s not that they’ve had a lot of overt pushback for the work that they are doing — though there has been some opposition to the upcoming drag show — people just seem to shy away from stepping up to participate.
No matter their size and any negative feedback, the club keeps going. It’s too important. Dellorso points to their most recent scholarship recipient, who was able to come out because of the safety and support of the GSA. Her daughter came out as pansexual her senior year. The awareness and social opportunities that the booster club facilitates are crucial. “They don’t have the peer support as much as the bigger towns like Champaign do. They don’t have all the different things that they can go do, comfortably, in their own skin.”
It’s not too late to participate in the 5K on Saturday. Though early bird registration has passed, you can still sign up to run or walk, and can even register at the event. On site registration opens at 6:30 a.m. The race begins at the Tuscola Community Building at 122 N Central Ave. There’s also a 1K fun run this year for kids age 12 and under. Entry fees are $40 and $15, respectively, and will increase by $5 after Friday. This is a color run, so expect to get a little messy. You can pre-purchase tickets for the drag show, or buy tickets at the door. It’s just $10, or $5 for students with a student I.D. The drag performance is family friendly. There will be no alcohol at the event, but snacks and drinks will be available for purchase.
If you are interested in being a part of the club, either as a member or an occasional volunteer, you can find sign ups for both of those things on their website. They also have an online store, where you can purchase items to support their work.