By Emily Beckman
WICHITA - Jonathan Cooley wanted to spread the message that it is OK to be gay - so he started by coming out.
That was several years ago.
Now entering his junior year at Campus High School, the 17-year-old is Wichita’s Pride Student Ambassador. He acquired that position in June, and will hold it for one year.
The position - in its second year - is part of Wichita Pride. The position includes speaking up for LGBTQ+ youth and listening to their ideas, Cooley said. In addition, the Pride Student Ambassador is expected to maintain good grades, be a good role model and work with the Pride board, according to Daisha King-Madden, Youth and Family Director for Wichita Pride.
“Jonathan is a very empathetic person,” King-Madden said. “He can relate to a lot of other kids on a lot of different levels. He’s been through a lot so he has a better understanding what it’s like for a lot of kids that are going through a hard time.”
At school, Cooley is invol-ved in the Campus LGBTQ+ group, of which he is the auditor. Cooley says that most teachers at Campus are supportive of LGBTQ+ students.
“It’s a really nice school to go to,” he said.
In the future, Cooley hopes to become a drag queen, a cosmetologist and a nurse practitioner. As an aspiring drag queen, Cooley enjoyed attending Pride in drag and meeting drag queens. Once he turns 18, he plans to perform at Club Boomerang.
“When I do drag it’s kind of a confidence booster and it’s something to make me feel proud of myself,” Cooley said. “I already feel proud of myself and where I am at, but drag is just more of a comfort zone for me. [It’s] a way to express my feelings and to show everyone it’s OK to be what you want [and] to dress the way you want.”
Cooley remembers a time in his life when he didn’t feel like he had a voice.
“I want to continue speaking for the youth and being there for the youth and helping people who don’t necessarily have a voice at the moment,” Cooley said.
He has advice for those who may be in shoes he previously wore: reach out and get help.
“There is someone that is going to care about you no matter who you are, what you identify as or who you like. Because, I mean, we’re all human,” Cooley said.
As far as getting involved in high school LGBTQ+ groups, he recommends seeking out a teacher, counselor or administrator who is LGBTQ-friendly for guidance.
King-Madden hopes that the Student Ambassador position will show LGBTQ+ youth that Pride cares.
“We want students to realize Pride does know that they’re there and that the youth do make a huge impact on our community and they are our future,” she said. l