NWFSC Students Hosting Inaugural Gay Ball
The Northwest Florida State College Gay-Straight Alliance is holding its inaugural Gay Ball this Saturday, an event that is centered around love, acceptance — and fun.
Claudia Lebrun, president of the NWFSC Gay-Straight Alliance, said she was inspired by the annual celebration ball held by Gay Grassroots Northwest Florida each June during their Pensacola Pride week. So, she decided to host a similar event in Niceville.
“I want this to be a day where you can express yourself and be proud of who you are,” Lebrun said. “Don’t be afraid of your differences.”
The Northwest Florida State College Gay-Straight Alliance was established in January as an organization to “show compassion and support” for the LGBT community, Lebrun said. It’s also a place to socialize. As a group, they go on field trips and host film screenings. This weekend’s Gay Ball is their first large-scale event.
“It’s an excuse to dress up and have fun,” Lebrun said. “We’ll have pride flag decorations, games, food — one of our members is going to play the piano. The response so far has been amazing.”
The NWFSC Gay-Straight Alliance is one of few LGBT advocacy groups in Okaloosa County, outside of a few high school clubs, Lebrun said. It serves as a “safe space” for LGBT individuals seeking support and a place for non-LGBT people to learn about the community.
David Simmons, faculty advisor for the Gay-Straight Alliance, said the group is “very historic” for Niceville.
“I doubt there’s anything like this happening between Pensacola and Panama City,” he said. “It’s not only the right thing to do, but it could save lives. Nearly half of LGBT youth have attempted suicide more than once. It’s important that they feel loved, that they feel safe and they can be themselves.”
Lebrun said she suffered from suicidal thoughts in the past. Once she found a group of friends and mentors she could trust, it was “way easier” to cope. Now, she has turned her attention to advocacy.
“It was hard,” she said. “At one point in my life, I didn’t have anyone I could talk to. Once I learned to love myself, I knew my days were going to get better. I feel like I can help people who are going through the same thing.”
The Gay-Straight Alliance is completely student-run. As an instructor, Simmons said it’s rewarding to see students, like Lebrun, take charge and spend their free time helping others.
“Life really has a purpose when we get outside ourselves and lift and love others,” he said.
The Gay Ball will be held at 7 p.m. Sept. 22 in the Art Building at Northwest Florida State College. The event is open to everyone — regardless of school, age or orientation. Lebrun said she has extended the invitation to other LGBT advocacy groups in the area.
“The more the merrier,” she said. “Some of us didn’t go to our high school proms — this is our second chance.”