Steamboat High School student holds rally for women’s equality

Adia Clark Lay, middle, holds signs along Lincoln Avenue on Thursday along with Kailani Clark Lay, right, and Nik Keyek during a rally in front of the Routt County Courthouse in downtown Steamboat Springs. Clark Lay, a Steamboat Springs High School senior, held the rally in honor of the 50th anniversary of Women’s Equality Day. (Photo by John F. Russell)

Steamboat Springs High School senior Adia Clark Lay felt frustrated when boys at her school called her a “dumb, uneducated feminist” for posting on her social media about women’s rights, racial equality and other social justice issues.

Rather than letting the taunting words destroy her passion, Clark Lay used them as fuel to her fire and upped her activism by planning a women’s rights rally Thursday in front of the historic Routt County Courthouse. The day was chosen to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Women’s Equality Day, which recognizes when the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed giving some women the right to vote.

The rally brought out a small group of residents who waved signs and visited with local equality groups, including Steamboat Creates, Yampa Valley Pride and Advocates of Routt County, in addition to local female leaders giving speeches on issues facing women today.

“In my mind, it is critical to surround yourself with strong women, as well as men, who want to lift up women into the leadership roles that they’re inspired to take on,” said Kara Stoller, executive director of the Steamboat Springs Chamber. “The best way that I feel like I’ve been able to do this is to have a core group of other women who are leaders in their own ways.”

Advocates of Routt County Executive Director Lisel Petis speaks at a rally Thursday in support of women’s equality. (Photo by John F. Russell)

Stoller encouraged women in the audience to seek out leadership opportunities in their lives, though those positions may not always be as business leaders.

“It’s OK to stand up for yourself and know you have a support system right behind you,” Stoller said. “You are always supported.”

Clark Lay graduates in December and will turn 18 in January, when she said she is thrilled to begin voting and making decisions in American politics. For now, she hopes to make a change by pushing for more women in local leadership positions.

Steamboat Springs Chamber Executive Director Kara Stoller speaks at a rally Thursday to honor of the 50th anniversary of Women’s Equality Day. (Photo by John F. Russell)

“We’re still fighting to the rights of our own bodies, opinions and fair wages,” Clark Lay said. “This is the generation of change, we can build on what those before us have fought for and make change for those to come.”

Colleen Clark Lay, Adia’s mother, said she always encouraged her daughter to speak her mind and pursue her dreams, which is what she believed Adia did in planning Thursday’s rally.

Advocates of Routt County Exeutive Director and Steamboat City Council member Lisel Petis and Yampa Valley Pride founding member Chelsie Holmes both discussed the concepts of feminism and intersectionality, a term coined by Columbia Law School Professor Kimberle Crenshaw describing how race, gender, class and other characteristics intersect to impact how a person is viewed and treated in society.

“When we talk about women’s issues, we’re talking about LGBTQ women; we’re talking about Black women,” Holmes said.

Chelsie Holmes, founding member of Yampa Valley Pride, speaks at the women’s equality rally Thursday, organized by Adia Clark Lay. (Photo by John F. Russell)

Similarly, Petis talked about the need to reclaim the word “feminism,” which is defined as the advocacy of women’s rights on the basis of gender equality. It has since seen a divisive, negative connotation attached to it.

“When did the word ‘feminist’ become a bad word, when did it become an insult?” Petis said. “The fact that they’re trying to take the word feminist is really sexism at its finest and we need to be taking back that word.”

While most attendees at the event were women, Graham Hackett, social change program manager at Advocates, said men should also be working towards women’s equality and viewing issues like domestic violence and sexual assault as issues they should also help to end.

“Framing things as women’s issues is putting those most likely to be victimized as the ones expected to make the social change, which is ridiculous,” Hackett said. “Men need to get past that way of thinking, recognize it’s a faulty social narrative and that there has to be a different way to do things.”

Steamboat has held an annual Women’s March each year since the annual tradition began in 2017, but Clark Lay hopes to also create a tradition of female high school students holding events to support women’s equality.

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