Gay student organisations, or Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs), help make schools safer for all students and likely play an integral role in mitigating the negative impact of bullying and harassment on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students. This is according to research released by GLSEN, or the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, in the US.
Gay–straight alliances are student clubs, found primarily in North American high schools and universities, that are intended to provide a safe and supportive environment for LGBT youth and their straight allies. There are currently 3 612 GSAs registered across the US.
“This research brief provides proof of the enormous positive impact Gay-Straight Alliances have on school climate,” said Dr. Eliza Byard, GLSEN Interim Executive Director.
The brief found that the presence of GSAs may help make schools safer for LGBT students by sending a message that biased language and harassment will not be tolerated. The clubs may also help LGBT students identify supportive school staff, which has been shown to have a positive impact on their academic achievements and experiences in school.
According to the research, students in schools with GSAs are less likely to hear homophobic remarks such as “faggot” or “dyke” in school on a daily basis than students in schools without a GSA (57% compared to 75%).
LGBT students in schools with GSAs are also less likely to miss school because they feel unsafe compared to other students: a quarter (26%) of students in schools with GSAs missed school in the past month because they felt unsafe compared to a third (32%) of students at schools without GSAs.
A straight high school student and a history teacher, Kevin Jennings, founded the first GSA in 1988 at Concord Academy in Massachusetts. The number of GSAs registered with GLSEN grew to 1 000 by the end of 2001 and could reach 4 000 this year.