Gay-Straight Alliances create safer, more affirming schools for all students


By David Sheridan

When students came to Lanie Gray for help starting a GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance), she jumped at the opportunity. Lanie teaches AP English in the same high school she and her brother attended as students in the 1980s—Olathe North High School in Olathe, Kansas. Her brother, an openly gay young man, endured merciless bullying and several brutal physical assaults while at Olathe North.

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“I knew that creating a safe place for LGBT students was a cause I could fight for. I was all in,” says Lanie. Using resources from NEA partner GLSEN, she and the students set up a GSA, with Lanie serving as their advisor.

The Olathe North GSA is a very visible student club. “We even march in the homecoming parade and sell candy at Halloween,” Lanie laughs.

Lanie has also availed herself of the training opportunities provided by GLSEN, even paying her own way to GLSEN trainings. And she in turn has trained the Olathe North staff. “We live in a conservative and religious community. The challenge has been to convince people that standing up for LGBT students has nothing to do with sex and everything to do with making these students feel safe and supported because every student deserves that.”

Lanie Gray

For Lanie Gray, the GSA experience has been hugely rewarding. In the five years of the GSA’s existence, she has seen the bullying and harassment of LGBT students in her school decline. “There’s still bullying but it’s much less than before.” Gray reports. “Most recently, when two transgender boys started using the boy’s bathroom, some knuckle-headed comments were directed at them. So we educated staff about the Title 9 transgender student guidelines.

There are thousands of NEA members across the country today who, like Lanie Gray, serve as GSA advisors in their schools.

At Hale-Dale Middle School and High School in Farmingdale, Maine, school counselor Tara Kierstead helped students set up a GSA and serves as their advisor. “Our GSA is three years old and still fairly small, but the students find it a comfortable space to meet and talk. They do not seem ready yet to become highly visible advocates for LGBT rights, but when they’re ready, I will be right there to support them.”

Tara stresses the benefits of a GSA even to students who do not belong. “The GSA is a presence that says to all students we support LGBT students.”

Research shows that students in schools with GSAs are less likely to hear homophobic remarks such as “faggot” and “dyke” on a daily basis, and they are less likely to feel physically unsafe at school.

Polling by GLSEN also indicates that the majority of secondary school educators believe that having a GSA would help to create safer schools for LGBT students. Although the number of GSAs is growing, only 22 percent of secondary schools currently have GSAs. If students in your school s are interested in creating a GSA, both Lanie Gray and Tara Kierstead urge you to help them out, using the GLSEN start-up kit.

Reader Comments

  1. This is great, but I think it would be better to use a name other than “Gay-Straight Alliance.” I mean, people who aren’t heterosexual aren’t “crooked.”

  2. Bible classes would be a much more appropriate idea for a club and make the school much safer and create a loving and caring atmosphere amount all students and ethnicities! Then no one is being singled out because of their unusual circumstances!

    1. But a lot of the time the Bible is why LGBT students are being mistreated in the first place. See and
      Science has pretty definitively proven that homosexuality is not a choice and that you cannot “pray the gay away”. Sometimes it leaves physical evidence like the ratio of index and ring finger lengths. The only conclusion left that can be drawn by a Christian homosexual is that god made them that way. If so, and if homosexuality is a sin, then the next logical leap is that God either made them defective, or made them specifically to torture them with desires they dare not act on. Can a God be all-loving who forces 3-4% of his creations to constantly choose between love and salvation, while living most of their waking hours surrounded by people who inexplicably can have both and often taunt them with it? Isn’t that just a bit sadistic?

      (And don’t give me that “but they’re still allowed to have a full and healthy sex life – they just have to have it with the opposite sex like everyone else.” That’s as attractive and insulting to them as me telling you “you’re still allowed to have a full and healthy sex life – your partner just can’t be older than 10.”)

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