by Margaret Reist, Lincoln Journal Star
LINCOLN, Neb. (AP)–It starts with a snowplow blade.
Ten nondescript feet of metal used to clear Lincoln’s streets during the season of snow and ice; yet in the hands of a small group of Northeast High School students, it becomes something else, too: a vehicle for change.
Because this winter, one of Lincoln’s snowplows will be pushing a message of tolerance and acceptance, thanks to those who turned the blade into a rainbow.
“I thought it would be a good idea because everyone sees this, because it’s Nebraska and it never doesn’t snow,” said Trent Kersten, an 11-grader and member of the Lincoln Northeast High School Rainbow Gay Straight Alliance, whose members spent Thursday afternoon in the back parking lot of the school, painting the blade.
Although the club has been around for several years, it has new sponsors, more members and a renewed energy this year. And the goal of those members is to create a place where people feel safe and accepted.
Sasii Norman, an 11th-grader, said the club is a place where students who may have been through difficult times at home or school can feel safe.
“It’s more of a support club,” she said.
The club is not just for students who are gay, bisexual or transgender; it’s for anyone, and its members want to foster an atmosphere where everyone feels welcome, said Justine Therrien, a junior.
“It’s a place where people can take down their walls and be accepted,” she said.
The group hopes to encourage others to accept those different from themselves, even if they don’t always agree with them, and erase the negative connotation associated with Northeast’s GSA group.
“We’re trying to change that,” Therrien said.
Which is where the snow blade comes in.
Roger Tiedeman, west district manager for Lincoln Public Works street maintenance, read about an art project using snowplow blades in Green Bay, Wis., and thought it sounded like a good idea. So he forged a partnership with Lincoln Public Schools, any of which can paint a blade that will be used on a route close to that school.
Northeast art teacher Maggie Elsener offered the project to her art club and the Rainbow GSA club. The latter loved the idea.
“These kids seemed really pumped about doing it,” she said.
Chance Riblett, 11th grade, designed the series of rainbows that cover the blade. Others thought both the school initials and GSA should be a part of the design.
They liked the rainbow motif because it represents inclusion; they liked that it had both their school initials and GSA to help promote the club.
The group has other projects under way: a turkey-selling fundraiser to help earn money so they can attend a convention in Des Moines, Iowa, in April. They’d like to make T-shirts and sell those, too. And they’ve created a partnership with Nebraska Wesleyan University’s Gay Straight Alliance.
The snowplow project has helped bring the group together and create its own identity, said Irene Prince, one of the sponsors.
“It represents Lincoln Northeast, because they don’t get that very often,” she said. “It’s not like the football team or the basketball team. It’s something they get credit for. They thought of it. They created it.”
Kersten hopes it will create more awareness and better acceptance of all people as it pushes snow from the streets.
“Maybe people across the city will see it,” he said.
That, as far as Therrien is concerned, would be a good thing.
“I just want to make the biggest impact possible.”