Gay-straight-alliance school bus, by Jon Gilbert Leavitt, available at http://www.flickr.com/photos/jglsongs

How to start a gay-straight-alliance

Are Gay-Straight alliances Important?  Do they help?

No, this is not a trick question.

If you’re visiting our site then it’s likely you want to see a world without homophobia.  Maybe you’re gay or bi yourself, perhaps you’re curious, or simply have friends or family that are.  The point is that as our political cycle gets nastier and we see more hate in our media, it becomes more important than ever to create that safe space for our young people.  And, we need to create it where they spend most of their awake-time.  That’s right: I’m talking about school.

Nobody wants to think about school.  For most of us high school sucked: the drudgery, the bullying, the horrible moody teenagers around us.  High school, socially speaking, is simply horrid.  But take a moment to imagine (or remember) what it was like if you were one of the only queer kids in your school. It was lonely and depressing, you felt isolated, and then, just as an added bonus there was the bullying, taunting and endless abuse.  Then there are the teachers who often (in spite of their good intentions) are simply ill equipped to deal with this mess, so they ignore it.

High school sucks.

Luckily it doesn’t have to be that way.  A Gay-straight alliance can help address these issues, prevent bullying and create a sense of belonging and community in any school. It’s a chance for both gay and straight students alike to bridge the gaps between them and discover that we’re really not so different after all.

For some students, gay-straight alliances can be the only place they have to escape what could be a rough home life with unaccepting parents.  By making the issue visible, gay-straight alliances help people unlearn homophobia.  Gay-straight alliances help break down that isolation that the gay kids feel.  They meet new gay friends and befriend the straight kids that accept them.  As teens come together to discuss current events, plan outings as a group to LGBTQ-friendly events, or even just hangout with each other, they all build a strong sense of belonging.  And, as an added bonus this leads to a degree of peer pressure where it homophobic bullying is no longer ok in the wider school community.

So how do you start?

  1. Find a supportive teacher or staff member to help you cut through the rules about starting clubs at your school, ask them to be club-advisor
  2. You need about five or six kids (gay and straight)
  3. Inform your school administration.  If you school administrators give you a hard time, provide them information about anti-discrimination laws (in the US you’d want them to look at the Federal Equal Access Act)
  4. Pick a meeting place
  5. Advertise – look at how the other clubs advertise
  6. Plan your meeting – make sure you have ground-rules ensuring that group discussions are safe, confidential and respectful.  You could also consider a “no assumptions or labels” about members’ sexual-orientation
  7. Have your meeting – start with a group discussion about why the group is needed or important.  Brainstorm things the group can do over the next few meetings
  8. As a group set goals and work towards them – look at the things the group brainstormed and start planning them.

Not to overstate it, but gay-straight alliances are important because they can save lives. Bullied youth report feeling alone, unwanted, or marginalized by their peers and their schools. Starting this safe space could be the first step to saving someone’s life. With the harrowing queer youth suicides in the last few years, saving even one life would make starting a GSA worth it.

Good things happen when people make them happen.

Now get out there and do just that!

 

Catherine Oliver is a freelance writer and college student from Cape Cod.  Her adorable Himalayan cat is named Zevran.  When not saving the world one word at a time, Catherine likes to knit and Zevran likes to steal the yarn. There is a lot of really good in-depth information about how to make your gay-straight alliance work at the GLSEN website.   

 

Is there is a gay-straight alliance in your school? Are you starting one?  Were you a member of one? Share your experiences with us.

 

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