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Gay–straight alliances are student organizations, found primarily in North American high schools and universities, that are intended to provide a safe and supportive environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth and their straight allies (LGBTA).
The goal of most, if not all, gay–straight alliances is to make their school community safe and welcoming to all students regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. They participate in national campaigns to raise awareness, such as the Day of Silence, National Coming Out Day, and No Name Calling Week. Many GSAs work with local chapters of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, commonly called GLSEN. The registered number of GSAs to GLSEN is over 3000, as of 2006. Over half the states in the USA have one or more statewide groups that work with GSAs. These groups formed independent of GLSEN.
A common misconception among the student body and the parents is that GSAs are simply dating services, or places where the "gay kids" can get together. In actuality, the diversity of a GSA's membership varies widely. Some GSAs find that their members are mostly straight, while some memberships are completely gay. Some GSAs change their name to place less emphasis on the word "gay," resulting in creative alternatives such as "Project Rainbow," "Pride Alliance," "Common Ground," "Coexist", "Spectrum," or even the "Straight-Gay Alliance." There are continued efforts to make GSAs and like programs accepting of a wide range of individuals. The common acronym "LGBT" can include many additional letters including "QQASIP": corresponding to queer, questioning, allied, straight, intersex or pansexual.
Some students face opposition from school administrations, elected school boards, or local communities in starting a school GSA. For example, some students at West Carteret High School in Morehead City, North Carolina tried to start a GSA but the Carteret County Board of Education turned it down. In 1999, the Orange County, California school board voted unanimously to prohibit the formation of a GSA at El Modena High School. The students sued the school board, claiming that their rights under the First Amendment and the 1984 Equal Access Act had been violated. In the first-ever ruling of its kind, Judge David O. Carter of the United States District Court for the Central District of California issued a preliminary injunction ordering the school to allow the GSA to meet. The suit was eventually resolved in a settlement whereby the board is now required to recognize the GSA. Many other public high schools have used similar tactics to protect their GSAs.
Although rulings have made it possible for GSAs to legally meet at public schools, many of the groups are placed into a "non-school sponsored" status by their school boards or schools, thereby making it difficult for the students to officially form a GSA or have their concerns seen or heard on campus. For example, in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School System of North Carolina, GSAs are allowed to meet but are considered non–school sponsored; the groups aren't allowed to use the school's intercom system for announcements like other student clubs, to be portrayed as a school club in the yearbook, to have their club funds held in school accounts, to participate in school activities in which sponsored clubs are allowed, or to be a part of the student organization component of each school's student government. The Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools Policy on Student-Initiated, Non-School Sponsored Clubs serves as an example of other such policies nation-wide (WSFCS Policy 6146). The first GSA was started in Concord, Massachusetts by Kevin Jennings, the creator and head of the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network GLSEN, who also happens to be a native of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The first public school gay–straight alliance was started at Newton South High School (Newton Centre, Massachusetts) by teacher Robert Parlin.
In September 2006, Touro University of California briefly attempted to ban the school's GSA, the Touro University Gay-Straight Alliance. After a demonstration held by the students and faculty of Touro California and an outcry of support from the American Medical Student Association, the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association and the Vallejo City Council, Touro University retracted its revocation of the school's GSA.
Worldwide Gay Straight Alliances aren't as popular as they are in the United States but are beginning to take-off slowly. In the UK there has always been more of an emphasis on stand alone Lesbian and Gay Youth 'Groups' that take place outside of the school setting, often funded by the local health authority or education service. The first GSA in the UK was founded by Charlotte Lester at Putney High School for Girls. The Gay–Straight Alliance at Putney High School was not forced to close down at the school itself, but it was forced to remove its website and any links to other gay youth groups, and to restrict its access to students over the age of sixteen. However, another Gay-Straight Alliance was established at President Kennedy School and Community College, Coventry, called There Are No Outsiders and this has been supported by the Headteacher and other members of staff.
Despite this setback Charlotte's efforts were combined with those of gay rights activist David Henry in Manchester and together they formed the Queer Youth Alliance in 1999. The Queer Youth Alliance is now supporting the formation of GSA and related LGBT youth groups all over the UK.
The first GSA in Mexico was begun by a group of students in 2004 at the American School Foundation, a private American school in Mexico City. The GSA was initially opposed by several school board members and a small group of religious conservative parents. But the students fought back and eventually won their right to form the student club. The GSA's co-advisor, Ian K. Macgillivray, is now a professor of education specializing in LGBT issues in education and wrote the book, Gay-Straight Alliances: A Handbook for Students, Educators, and Parents.
There have been many Alliances started in the past 5 years. Some notable successes include Upper Canada College and Thornhill Secondary School. With groups like these demanding that every classroom be held to a Safe Space policy, holding rallies and raising awareness, definite impacts have been made on other students.
One must understand that because of the absence of a strong Nation Wide Alliance (unlike the USA) students are finding it difficult to push through. In particular, Richmond Hill High School (the high school of Queer Canadian Youth Writer Jesse Stong (FAB MAGAZINE/Buddies in Bad Times Theater)) faced considerable opposition for the past four years with the excuses "Topics like this do not belong in our schools," or "We have a very conservative community," or even "It is not safe for students to identify themselves as gay."
However, the students of Richmond Hill High School were able to come to an understanding with the administration on this issue through media attention and a presentation to the parent council. The Richmond Hill High School GSA had its first meeting on February 7, 2007, with overwhelming support exhibited by students and teachers alike.
Beyond a school group the Toronto District School Board has been committed to an unwritten Alliance with their students, funding the Triangle Program at OASIS Alternative School. Designed for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students who are at risk of dropping out or committing suicide because of homophobic harassment in regular schools.
In Saskatchewan, Carlton Comprehensive High School houses one of the first GSA movements in the city of Prince Albert. The first GSA in the city of Saskatoon first met on March 18, 2003 at Mount Royal Collegiate. Since then, GSAs have been established at Nutana, Walter Murray, Evan Hardy, Marion Graham, Bedford Road and Aden Bowman Collegiates. Saskatoon's newest Roman Catholic high school, Bethlehem, recently established a GSA after failed attempts at other Catholic high schools in the city. Humboldt Collegiate Institute in Humboldt, Saskatchewan - a school run by both the Greater Saskatoon Catholic School Division and the (public) Horizon School Division - has also acquired a GSA.
- ↑ http://library2.usask.ca/srsd/chronology/?year=2003 Celebrating a History of Diversity: Lesbian and Gay Life in Saskatchewan, 1971 - 2006
- Denina, Chris. "Gay Club Loses Touro OK." Vallejo Times-Herald 9 Sept. 2006: A1 
- Buchanan, Wyatt. "Gay rights group's charter is revoked." San Francisco Chronicle 12 Sept 2006: B5. 
- American Medical Student Association. 11 Sept. 2006: "Medical Students at TU to protest Abolition of Gay-Straight Alliance Group" 
- Gay Lesbian Medical Association. 09 Sept. 2006: "GLMA Decries Decision by Touro University College of Osteopathic Medicine to Ban Gay Straight Alliance Student Group." 
- Cuestsa, Anthony. "California Med School Reinstates Gay Student Group After Protests." 247Gay.com. 14 Sept. 2006. 
- Denina, Chris. "Touro's provost says gay group wasn't dropped." Vallejo Times-Herald 12 Sept 2006: A1. 
- Buchanan, Wyatt. "Gay rights group not banned, school says." San Francisco Chronicle. 13 Sept 2006: B4. 
- American Medical Student Association. 13 Sept 2006: "Nation's Medical Students Applaud California Osteopathic Medical School's Affirmation of Gay-Straight Alliance." 
- Johnson, Brooke (May 2008). "Out but not loud. Even as acceptance grows, gay DOs, students remain wary". The DO magazine: 36–41. American Osteopathic Association.
- Gay Straight Alliance
- Site for Gay-Straight Alliances to register with the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN)
- Gay-Straight Alliance Network International
- GSA Network
- Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) Official Site
- Gay/Straight Alliances: A Student Guide (Mass.)
- Gay-Straight Alliances: A Handbook for Students, Educators, and Parents
- Texas Gay Straight Alliance Network website
- Queer Youth Alliance website (UK)
- "Hineini: Coming Out in a Jewish High School," 2005 documentary film profiling a student's attempt to start a GSA at her Jewish High School
- "Gay issues club pits pupils against principal. January 22, 2007. A newspaper article on the predicament faced by RHHS GSA
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