Molly Girard, 18, a graduate of Owen J. Roberts High School in Pottstown, was one of 14 area youth honored Aug 8 with the National Liberty Museum’s Young Heroes Award.
The museum, and sponsor TD Bank, uses the award to recognize young people who have championed liberty through civic engagement, conflict resolution, promotion of diversity and school or community leadership.
Girard, who will attend Savannah College of Art and Design in the fall to study art, was recognized for her efforts to educate her school district on the effects of bullying on LGBT students.
Girard served on the executive board of her school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, having been inspired to get involved in the GSA her freshman year after her own coming-out experience.
“[The GSA] was a huge support system for me when I came out because my parents were struggling for a while in coming to terms that their oldest daughter was gay,” she said. “It was helpful to meet other people, teachers or students, who were going through or went through similar situations.”
Jen Arnst, who serves as a guidance counselor for the school and as faculty advisor for the GSA, said Girard was integral in pushing forward a GSA project in which the members visited every facility in the district to teach about anti-LGBT bullying.
“She was the driving force behind getting us into those buildings, and especially getting into middle schools,” Arnst said.
Girard said her peers motivated her to spearhead the effort.
“A lot of students were bothered by the anti-LGBT language used in school, so we thought the best way to do that is talk to staff and faculty and have them be more aware of the language and how to handle those situations,” she said. “A lot of teachers were aware it was wrong to use anti-LGBT language, but were unsure of how to stop it, so talking to them about different situations was a good way to help with that.”
Arnst, who nominated Girard for the Young Heroes Award, said her leadership will be missed at the school.
“For me personally, her graduating has had a huge impact and having her gone will be a big adjustment. As a role model, she has prepared younger kids quite well. I think she has such a passion for the work and it was infectious and a natural thing for her,” she said. “She was not shy about her coming-out experience and she has been forthright in sharing her stories. She has encouraged other kids to come out and start conversations with friends or parents. Knowing there are kids like Molly who are willing to stand up and be out makes other kids feel more comfortable in their school.”
Girard was also active in her high school’s AP art program and ran cross-country.
She said her school has evolved on LGBT issues, but noted that more work needs to be done.
“It is more accepting than it was four or five years ago. It has gotten better but there is room for improvement,” she said.
Girard said she is excited to discover the LGBT community at her new school and hopes to continue her work.
“I definitely want to stay involved and get involved in the GSA at college and see what the LGBT climate is like in Savannah and get involved in the community there. I hope to continue to be involved in activism and public speaking for LGBT issues.”
While Girard was humbled by the Young Heroes Award, she was also surprised.
“I was honestly shocked because I just did what made sense for me to do and something I was passionate about, and wanted to make a difference.”