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All over North America, high school students who want to end homophobia are launching Gay-Straight Alliances or GSAs. These are clubs devoted to human rights and human dignity, including the rights and dignity of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender humans. These clubs usually have a social justice and education focus. They work to change school policies and to educate their staff and student bodies regarding gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and about anti-gay harassment and violence. Their members may be of any sexual orientation or gender identity.
Some schools have also launched Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Students' Support Groups through a health center or counseling program. Just as a lot of schools offer support groups for empowering young women or young men, or for students who want to stop smoking, some offer these GLBTQ support groups. These groups are usually less focused on social justice activism than a GSA. They may be recreational (a chance to hang out in a safe space once a week and play cards) or support-focused (a place to talk about issues such as dating, getting bullied, coming out, etc.). Some GLBTQ Support Groups invite participation by straight allies (heterosexual students with a GLBT friend or family member or who just care about the issue) and some restrict membership, for safety's sake, to people who are, or who think they might be, sexual minorities.
Frequently Asked Questions about GSAs
1) QUESTION: The principal wants to change the name of a proposed GSA to something like the "Gay Straight Alliance and Diversity Organization." We'd address race issues anyway, but we don't want to have to shift our main focus. Should we go to the school board?
ANSWER: Not right away. Depending upon the size of the school district, there's usually one or more other layers of bureaucracy between the principal and the school board and it would be really worth trying those channels. Does your new GSA have a faculty advisor yet? That person might know who supervises your principal (who s/he reports to). There may be an assistant or deputy superintendent or else the principal may report directly to the superintendent.
There may also be an office of equity issues or something like that. Plus, the district's PTA president and/or counseling or nursing supervisor may be able to intervene before it becomes a school board level issue. I would ask around to see who, at your district offices, has (a) been a friend in the past to these issues and (b) has the ear of the superintendent.
If you do end up needing to go to the school board, the ideal would be for one or two of you to talk in private with the most supportive school board member over coffee, rather than starting with a public confrontation in a board meeting.
And at every step in the process, bringing along a parent or a school employee (teacher, counselor) may increase the likelihood of the students' voices being heard.
2) QUESTION: Does a GSA have a right to meet during the school day?
ANSWER: That depends upon the rules for other non-curricular (not course-related) clubs. Your GSA must, according to the federal (U.S.) Equal Access Act be treated the same way those other clubs are treated. So if they meet during the day, you should be allowed to, too. For more information on your legal rights, see GAY-STRAIGHT ALLIANCES: COMMON LEGAL QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS from The National Center for Lesbian Rights. http://www.nclrights.org/site/DocServer/gsaqa0703.pdf?docID=1323 (pdf format)
3) QUESTION: Where can we find the constitutions or by-laws of GSAs?
ANSWER: You'll find some examples of GSA's constitutions linked from the GLSEN Colorado website: http://www.glsenco.org/Students/stuff for GSAs.htm
http://www.galebc.org/gsa.htm Gay-Straight Alliance Network - a youth-led organization that works to empower youth activists fighting homophobia in schools. Useful if you are trying to start a GSA at your school, keep it going, survey your student body, or otherwise become active in the fight to end homophobia. http://www.gsanetwork.org/
Letter from a GSA
-A friend of Safe Schools Coalition's GSA sent his school's administration a lovely letter asking for some concrete protections and thanking them for what they have done to date. Here it is (edited for confidentiality) as an example of what a GSA might do if the problems at their school are not reaching resolution after verbal attempts. http://www.safeschoolscoalition.org/LetterfromaGSA.pdf
Building Anti-Racist GSA's - this page on the GSA Network's site (1) addresses some of the reasons GSA's are disproportionately white and (2) proposes strategies for addressing some of those reasons and building diverse, anti-racist organizations!! http://www.gsanetwork.org/resources/pdf/Antiracist.pdf
Dear Colleague - June 14, 2011 - U.S. Department of Education sent this letter to schools saying Gay-Straight Alliances must be allowed (law is not new, just a formal reminder). http://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/guid/secletter/110607.html This guidance accompanied the letter. http://www2.ed.gov/policy/elsec/guid/secletter/groupsguide.doc (doc format)
Fight High School Homophobia - this page from Planned Parenthood's Teen Wire web site explains what Gay-Straight Alliances are safe spaces for everybody. http://www.teenwire.com/infocus/2003/if-20030411p072-homophobia.php
Gay Straight Alliances
-this fact sheet from the National Center for Lesbian Rights explains the legal rights of students to form GSA's and your right to have the same privileges for your GSA as for any other club. It is a simple handout you could give to your principal; it cites which laws and lawsuits confer those rights. http://www.nclrights.org/site/DocServer/gsaqa0703.pdf?docID=1323
Gay Straight Alliances in BC - (British Columbia, Canada): this site includes an entire handbook!
Gay/Straight Alliances: A Student Guide - steps for starting an alliance, top ten list of suggestions for awesome meetings, etc. From the Massachusetts Department of Education. http://www.doe.mass.edu/cnp/GSA/
The GLSEN Student Organizing Email Listservs - email lists for which participants can either have discussions or receive announcements and news. Subscription to a listserv is done upon registration with Student Organizing. If you've registered in the past, but have a new email address, or never joined in the past, please email your NAME, SCHOOL NAME, NEW EMAIL ADDRESS and a LIST of the Listservs you wish to sign on to firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: http://www.glsen.org/cgi-bin/iowa/all/library/record/781.html#LISTSERVS
The GLSEN Student Organizing email listservs are:
- GSATalk - Email discussion list for youth working in GSAs in K-12 schools across the country to discuss and share ideas, resources and information. (student only; 5-20 emails/week - daily digest available)
- AdvisorTalk - Email discussion list for GSA Advisors in K-12 schools across the country to discuss and share ideas, resources and information. (advisor only; 5-20 emails/week - daily digest available)
- Student Organizer - Bi-weekly email newsletters with GSA resources, information, news and more. (both student & advisor; 2-5 emails/month)
- GLSEN Alert - Important announcements & alerts regarding LGBT issues in education. (both student & advisor; 1-2 emails/week)
How to Have a Kick-Ass GSA - from the GSA Network. Includes: Establishing Your Club's Purpose, Preparing for Meetings, Running a Good Meeting, Creating an Action Plan, Sample Mission Statements. http://www.gsanetwork.org/resources/pdf/KickassGSA.pdf (pdf format)
How to Start a GSA - from the GSA Network. Includes: What is a Gay-Straight Alliance? and How can I start a Gay-Straight Alliance? http://www.gsanetwork.org/resources/start.html Also a pdf version and la versión pdf en Español.
Pride High - a comic book featuring gay teen superheroes in English, Japanese, Dutch, and French. It follows the adventures of five friends who create a gay-straight alliance at their high school for superpowered youth. http://www.pridecomics.com
Sample constitutions for Gay-Straight Alliances - the GLSEN Colorado web site offers three sample constitutions and more linked from their "stuff for GSA's" page. http://www.glsenco.org/Students/stuff for GSAs.htm
Transgender Inclusivity in GSA's
- this page on the GSA Network's site offers 10 concrete strategies for making your GSA respectful of the gender diversity in your school as well as a glossary and resource list: http://www.gsanetwork.org/resources/pdf/Transgender.pdf (pdf format)
View Gay-Straight Alliance clubs as partners - guest viewpoint by Carolyn Laub, founder and executive director of the Gay-Straight Alliance Network. First published in the Dec. 10, 2002 issue of School Board News. http://www.safeschoolscoalition.org/ViewGayStraightAllianceClubsasPartners.pdf (pdf format)
What are your rights? A Q&A form for students during the Day of Silence
- At times students may face obstacles when organizing the Day of Silence. In this document created by GLSEN, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and Lambda Legal you will find a set of questions and answers based on general legal principles. http://www.safeschoolscoalition.org/StudentsRights_DOS_GLSEN_Lambda Legal_ACLU.pdf (pdf format)
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