SAGA, which stands for Sexuality and Gender Acceptance, started as the school’s updated version of a Gay-Straight Alliance — Aaron serving as the organization’s president, Lonnie its vice president and Colin the treasurer. Early into the school year, the three were planning to have a routine officers meeting during homeroom when everything changed.

“Suddenly that meeting was canceled,” Aaron recalled. “Our two teacher sponsors, along with some other teachers, had been called to the principal’s office and were ordered to take down the pride flags or they would lose their jobs.” Returning to his classroom, Aaron said he saw an empty space where a pride flag used to be — and Morgantown High School wasn’t alone. Superintendent Eddie Campbell told principals across all Monongalia County schools to remove the flags, citing a county policy that bans political activity in the classroom. But according to the SAGA squad, pride flags aren’t political, they’re a safety net.

Lonnie explained that as student leaders, the underclassmen immediately went to SAGA looking for next steps. After rallying in a community-wide protest at the board of education, the team hatched a response plan to bring that same spirit to their own school by organizing a walk-out. With the support of several faculty members behind them, and the word quickly spreading with one day’s notice, a sea of rainbow-clad students flooded out of the school, bellowing echoes of support. After initial speeches from SAGA and surprise-guest community members, the two hour spectacle turned into a chance to connect.

“We let the microphone go to anyone who wanted to share their experience or stories,” Colin said. “The sheer number of students who had something to say… was insanely impactful. Some of these students are people I had never seen before, at a school that I’ve gone to for four years.”

Now over six months later, in spite of hundreds of supporters, pride flags are still banned in Monongalia County schools. They said that teachers still find creative ways to show their support, but this moment was a turning point for SAGA. The three realized the school wasn’t going to give them the support they needed — especially post-walk-out — and it was a clear chance to continue their advocacy work outside of school. “This was a good opportunity to turn this into an activist group,” Lonnie explained. “Before it was mainly a safe space to just talk, and we wanted to do a little bit more than that… we created the organization, separating from the club a little bit.”

Colin said the transformation began when they contacted Mollie Kennedy, Community Outreach Director of the West Virginia ACLU, who they had met when her organization hosted its Queer Youth Summit. The SAGA Club quickly morphed into the SAGA Initiative, expanding the organization’s mission with newfound support, funding and partnerships with the ACLU and West Virginia activists like Ash Orr.

Their major mission was creating GAC Packs, or gender- affirming care packages. With these bundles, SAGA is providing customizable care items and expressive accessories free of charge to LGBTQ+ youth. Cutting out the search and the high costs, SAGA is aiming to provide these resources statewide. Riding this momentum, the SAGA Initiative began hosting fundraising events, like trivia nights and an all-ages drag show. Then, they went as far as advocating for their program to legislators at the Capitol. The three tabled together at Fairness For All Lobby Day in Charleston (notably, as the youngest representatives in the room) and got the chance to promote their service and connect with other LGBTQ+ organizations across West Virginia.

At a time when transgender and queer youth remains at the forefront of debate in the West Virginia legislature, the SAGA leaders said having young people like themselves advocating is imperative for other young people to witness. “Students got to come and see us students, just a little bit older or the same age as them, and realize they can do this,” Aaron said. “They can get out here, make a change and do something that’s going to be huge and have a massive, positive impact on their lives.”

Lonnie said in agreement, “We can bring joy to people that need help.” It is an easy motivator to keep the group aligned with their mission as they graduate high school and head out on different paths. “This is my home,” Colin agreed. “The people in this state are family to me… when I came out, I didn’t have that level of acceptance, so I just wish to be that acceptance for other people.”

Having young people with the tenacity to stay committed to helping other young people is rare. But, according to Aaron, it’s actually quite simple: “We’re going to be inheriting the state, eventually. And, you know, the kids really are alright.”