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Former student becomes trailblazer for LGBTQ+rights

By Riana Braselman
On June 13, 2017

Former athletic training major Niante Ricks has led talks to high school classes and worked with Louisiana legislators in the hopes of advocating for LGBTQ+ rights. Since coming to campus, Ricks has noticed a lack of organizations available to LGBTQ+ students and has hopes for this to change.  Zack Smith/The Verbatim Agency for Option B

One university student has made it her goal to be a voice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning and other students in the state of Louisiana. 

Former student Niante Ricks has been advocating for the youth of the LGBTQ+ community by giving talks to high school classes and working with Louisiana legislators on laws that affect LGBTQ+ high school students.

“Some students feel like going to school is an escape from what’s happening at home,” said Ricks. “But they’re also going to school with the same exact problems because they don’t have anybody there to protect them from the backlash that they’re getting from parents because they don’t accept their lifestyle. They’re still getting knocked down by their peers or teachers that aren’t there to protect them.”

Ricks started working towards her cause when she was at Sci Academy.

“By my senior year in high school, I’d learned so much about myself and the world around me,” said Ricks. “That pushed me to do the project that I did my senior year in high school, which was fighting for LGBTQ+ rights in schools to stop bullying and discrimination.”

Ricks had decided to start small by going classroom to classroom, giving presentations to students in the lower grades.

“For my project, I went around to different grades,” said Ricks. “I taught them lessons about LGBTQ+ bullying and what it means to be a bully and if you may not know that how they discriminate by the things you say. I saw how many eyes I opened.”

Getting more involved with the LGBTQ+ community, Ricks discovered state legislation that impacted LGBTQ+ students.

“There’s this law known as the ‘No Promo Homo’ law,” said Ricks. “They prohibit teachers from being an advocate for LGBTQ+ students in school because they want to stop teachers from showing students that it’s a positive way to go. So, teachers aren’t allowed to step in and break up LGBTQ+ bullying because then they’d be violating that law. In doing research on it, I found out that a lot of teachers don’t know about this law. They aren’t aware that you can’t advocate for LGBTQ+ students inside of schools.”

According to the organization GLSEN, there are currently eight states in the United States that have these laws put into place, Louisiana being among this number. 

“I’m still working with getting laws changed so I get things to move forward in Louisiana,” said Ricks. “I also want to start small and build different programs and branch outside of the state of Louisiana because we aren’t the only ones that don’t have laws protecting LGBTQ+ students.”

Some of the ideas Ricks has to improve attitudes towards LGBTQ+ students is to give students a safe environment to express their support for students within the community. 

“I didn’t know there were different holidays dedicated to us LGBTQ+ students,” said Ricks “So, those should be initiated into some schools, or if students want to, they have the option to participate in like Day of Silence. LGBTQ+ kids can participate in that. That’s what I’m also trying to initiate to schools and not make it a constant thing but have it to where they’re making kids aware. I’m also trying to get different clubs started like Gay-Straight Alliance or Prism. The LGBTQ+ kids would like to have a home and then also you can incorporate straight kids into those programs as well so they can feel like they have support outside of their own community.”

Ricks grew up in New Orleans and has had a personal connection to the LGBTQ+ youth community since middle school.

“When I was in middle school, I came out to my mom,” said Ricks. “Coming out to her was kind of rough for the both of us because it was something that she was new to, and it was also something I was new to. So, we had many differences with it. When I was in high school, that’s when I wasn’t living with my mom anymore. As time went on, I started living with different family members outside of my mother. Personally, when I got to high school, I didn’t get many problems from my peers. Coming out of middle school, it was different because kids were like ‘What’re you doing?’ I lost friends. I did lose a lot of friends when I first came out.”

Since high school, Ricks and her mother have reconciled and are moving forward in their relationship together. After high school, Ricks enrolled at the university, and she wants to keep advocating for LGBTQ+ youth in the future. Ricks has observed her fellow LGBTQ+ peers and their interactions on campus.

“I know that there are LGBTQ+ students on campus,  but I really did not see much of them or if there are clubs and organizations that exist for the LGBTQ+ community,” said Ricks. “I feel like there should have been more awareness if there was a club or organization because I would have joined or became an advocate. The only time I’ve ever actually seen that community be together was, I think, in the fall semester. We had some church people on campus, and they were just going back and forth. That’s literally the only time I’ve ever seen them come together that way. Other than that, I haven’t seen much. I don’t know if it’s because they don’t want to be judged or if it’s because nobody’s actually taking action to say stuff or be out there.”

Ricks believes advocating for the LGBTQ+ youth can be as small as treating people with respect.

“People have to embrace that community by just making people feel at home and not so much of an outcast,” said Ricks. “I know how it can feel like you don’t fit in somewhere. Start small. Get a little bit of a group of LGBTQ+ kids starting an event to have our voices being heard. Probably get some people to come and also join over. I feel like that can be a big step forward.”

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