At Baldwin Park High School in Baldwin Park, California, the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) created the new Peace and Pride Garden, a safe space on campus for LGBTQ+ students, allies, and others. The goal of the garden space is to provide a quiet reflective area that is inviting and welcoming, and a space for students to learn how to grow, tend, and care for plants.
“The GSA had requested a safe space for a long time but there were no spare classrooms to use or other indoor space, so we asked about the gap between the buildings and there was no objection,” said Michelle Humason, GSA club advisor.
The students looked at the space, full of concrete, a chain-link fence, and brick walls, and envisioned how the space could be transformed by adding a garden. “We wanted a welcoming, soothing place, and since Southern California usually has great outdoor weather it just made sense,” Humason said.
With support and donations from Baldwin Park Unified School District, Baldwin Park High teachers and staff, a “sponsor a succulent” fundraiser, and a 2022 GroMoreGood Grassroots Grant, the Peace and Pride Garden vision became reality.
The space is now filled with Pride flags, making it easy for LGBTQ students to see it is a safe space. Succulents and other potted plants along with comfortable seating, fill the space too. The GSA club hosts club meetings in the garden, and the garden has sprouted new friendships with non-LGBTQ student allies while students plant, water, and care for what is growing.
The GSA also partnered with the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) club, another club at the high school, to develop the garden space. In the garden, you can find a brochure with information on the LGBTQ community, mental wellness tips, and gardening facts. The brochure is available for anyone to take.
Together, the GSA and NAMI clubs plan to provide monthly mental wellness activities next year. Activities will include yoga classes, music therapy drum circle sessions, art therapy activities, and workshops on healthy relationships, stress management, and suicide prevention. LGBTQ students will have access to priority registration for these workshops. Further, the garden will have banners featuring prominent LGBTQ people and information about the history and culture of the LGBTQ+ community.
“The garden has had a huge positive impact on the entire school community,” Humason said. “The special needs class comes every Friday to water plants as part of their mental wellness activities. Another teacher brought their classes to the garden to color mandalas as an anti-stress activity. Students are asking how to get involved in the garden and many staff members take their break in the garden every day.”
Even more, the school was selected to participate in a partnership with the Huntington Library and Botanical Gardens because of the new Peace and Pride Garden. The partnership will include materials and activities on mental wellness topics, information on future careers, and students will be able to visit and participate in the Huntington Library’s programming for the next two years.
The Peace and Pride Garden is a safe space for all students. J. Camarena, a student at Baldwin Park, submitted an illustration to the school’s art contest that featured the garden. The poster was chosen as the winner!
The garden has just begun and will continue to offer activities, workshops, and events in the coming years to help LGBTQ+ students feel safe, included, and welcome at Baldwin Park High School.