Gay & Lesbian Services of Western New York

What is a Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA)?

What is a Gay/Straight Alliance(GSA) and what does it have to do with the Day of Silence and Buffalo and local schools?

A GSA is a student run club, typically in high school, which provides a safe place for students to meet to support one another, talk about issues related to sexual orientation, and work to end homophobia. Many GSAs function as a support group providing safety and confidentiality to students who are exploring or struggling with their identity as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered or questioning. In addition some GSAs work on education themselves and the broader school community about sexual orientation and gender identity issues. From my point of view, the mere existence of a GSA on a school campus signals to GLBTQ youth and faculty as well as other students and faculty that this school wants to promote and practice acceptance of diversity among its membership. This is a very affirming message even to those who are reluctant to self identify for whatever reason.

The GSA movement nationally is relatively new but growing. Ten years ago there were under 10 GSA groups across the country while now there are over 2000. About four years ago the first GSA in Buffalo got started at City Honors School. Now there are at least 6 high schools including schools in Buffalo, Kenmore, Williamsville and Amherst that have either a GSA or a Cultural Awareness or Diversity Club.

Talking with staff and students from schools with GSAs or Diversity groups revealed common threads of experience. To begin with the impetus to start a GSA came from a student or students, not from faculty. Those students then found a willing faculty advisor who had the time. The school administrators were helpful and supportive and there was very little if any obstruction by staff or other students, and if there was it was the taking down of a poster related to the GSA. Therefore it is student involvement, energy and follow through that led to success in each instance.

GLYS also has been helpful in facilitating GSAs by holding workshops on how to start a GSA and by forming a Network for GSAs to coordinate efforts and support each school’s particular organization through membership in the Network. Contact Tracy at GLYS for more info on GSA s or the GSA Network. If you want to know more about GSAs in general or how to get one started in your school, www.gsanetwork.org is a great place to start. You also might type gay/straight alliance into the search engine that you like.

In cultures groups form around a common purpose or shared ideas. One of the common purposes taken on by the GSAs nationally has been to participate in and publicize the Day of Silence. The Day of Silence, observed last year on Wednesday, April 21, 2004, was founded in 1996 and has become the largest student-led action for creating safer schools for all regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. The silence recognizes and protests the silence that LGBTQ people face every day and offer tools to help end the silence. In prior years this has entailed a vow of silence for the entire school day or however long your school wishes to have it and participants hand out preprinted cards that state their reason for not speaking. An example from the GSA Network is “Please understand my reasons for not speaking today. I support lesbian, gay bisexual and transgendered rights. People who are silent today believe that laws and attitudes should be inclusive of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. The day of silence is to draw attention to those who have been silenced by hatred, oppression and prejudice. Think about the voices you are not hearing. What can you do to end the silence.” The website www.gsanetwork.org has more ideas about running a successful Day of Silence.

If you have experiences to share regarding the GSA or Diversity Group at your school please email me at this site. Your privacy anonymity and privacy are always assured.

GLYS Drop-in Center Coordinator periodically hosts a GLYS/Diversity Club Network meeting at GLYS. All GSA and Diversity Club members are welcome to attend. If your school does not have a group but would like to start one, you are also encouraged to participate in these gatherings when they are held!

Contact GLYS 855.0221 for information.

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