Gay–straight alliance

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Gay–straight alliance
Thousands of chapters in middle schools, high schools, colleges, and universities.[1]

A gay–straight alliance (GSA) is a student-led or community-based organization, found in middle schools and high schools as well as colleges and universities, primarily in the United States and Canada, that is intended to provide a safe and supportive environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) children, teenagers, and youth as well as their cisgender heterosexual allies.[2] A gay–straight alliance may also be known by another name such as gender-sexuality alliance or genders & sexualities alliance.[3] In middle schools and high schools, GSAs are overseen by a responsible teacher. The first GSAs were established in the 1980s.[4]

In the United States, the right of students to establish a GSA at school is guaranteed by both the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (with regard to every level of schooling) and the federal Equal Access Act (with regard to secondary schools where other student clubs are allowed, with the definition of secondary school for purposes of the federal law including middle schools and high schools). Since 1998, there have been at least 17 federal court cases in which high school and middle school students have conclusively prevailed in defending the free exercise of their civil rights on this issue, with federal courts consistently ruling that students have both a right to establish a GSA at school and to use the name Gay-Straight Alliance instead of an alternative name.[4] In 2000, the United States District Court for the Central District of California ruled in favor of high school students whose attempt to form a GSA had been blocked by the school board, in the case of Colin v. Orange Unified School District.[5] In 2009, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida ruled in favor of high school students whose attempt to form a GSA had been blocked by the school board, in the case of Gay-Straight Alliance of Yulee High School v. School Board of Nassau County, with the federal court also ruling that the school must allow the students to use the name Gay-Straight Alliance instead of an alternative name that excludes the term Gay.[6] In 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit unanimously ruled in favor of middle school students whose attempt to form a GSA had been blocked by the school board, in the case of Carver Middle School Gay-Straight Alliance v. School Board of Lake County, Florida.[7]

Scientific studies show that GSAs have positive academic, social, and health impacts on schoolchildren of a minority sexual orientation or gender identity.[8][9][10]

History of the GSA Network[edit]

The GSA Network is an LGBT rights organization was founded in 1998 by Carolyn Laub to empower youth activists to start GSA clubs in their respective schools to motivate and inspire fellow students to fight against homophobia and transphobia. Laub initially started working with this movement in 40 GSA clubs in the San Francisco Bay area during 1988–99 and then gradually expanded to other cities and states. By 2001, The GSA Network became a statewide organization having branches in other schools in different parts of the state. In the year 2005, it began operating programs nationally. The year 2008 saw the GSA network become incorporated as its own independent 501(c)3 non-profit organization. Prior to that, it was a fiscally sponsored project of The Tides Center. In 2015, the network hired two long time staff to serve as Co-Executive Directors to replace outgoing founder and Executive Director Carolyn Laub. In 2016, the Gay-Straight Alliance Network formally changed its name to Genders & Sexualities Alliance Network and continues to network organizations representing over 4000 GSA clubs across the nation.[11]

The GSA Network organization is based in San Francisco and has regional offices in Fresno, Los Angeles and New Orleans.


The goal of most gay–straight alliances is to make their school community safe, facilitate activism on campus, and create a welcoming environment for LGBT students. They are part of the LGBT student movement and participate in national campaigns to raise awareness, such as the Day of Silence, National Coming Out Day, No Name Calling Week,[12] Transgender Day of Remembrance, Harvey Milk Day, GSA day[13] or locally organized campaigns, such as Take It Back: Anti-Slur Campaign, Beyond the Binary, LGBTQ-Inclusive Curriculum and others.[14] Many GSAs work with local chapters of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) or Gay–Straight Alliance Network,[15] a national organization supporting youth leadership. The registered number of GSAs with GLSEN is over 4000, as of 2008.[1] In California, there are over 900 GSAs registered with GSA Network,[16] representing over half of California's high schools.[16] Over half the states in the United States have one or more statewide groups that work with GSAs.[citation needed] Many of these state based groups and local chapters of GLSEN participate in the National Association of GSA Networks. GSA Networks have been formed to help local area students to network and connect to local resources, provide training for youth leaders, and sponsor local GSA efforts.

The inclusion of heterosexual "straight allies" in the missions of these groups "is an important distinguishing factor from early support groups for LGBT teens, and recognizes the need for a comprehensive approach to youth safety," and attempts to build a network of support for non-heterosexual and transgender teens, as well as raising awareness of homophobia and heterosexism.[2]




LGBT students routinely experience harassment in their schools however, GSAs and other support clubs have been found to provide social support for LGBT students. Students have reported hearing homophobic remarks from both students and instructors in their schools.[17] In addition, the more harassment students reported, the more likely the student also reported higher levels of depression and lower self-esteem.[17] However, LGBT students attending a school with an active support club reported hearing less homophobic expressions and experienced less victimization than LGBT students attending a school without a GSA or support club.[8] In addition, LGBT students with a GSA in their high school reported more positive outcomes when it came to high school belonging and school victimization.[10]

In addition to the mere presence of a GSA on campus, level of participation in a GSA has also been linked to the amount of social support reported by LGBT students. A 2011 study by Toomey, Ryan, Diaz and Russell (2011)[9] found that the presence of a GSA, participation in a GSA, and perceived effectiveness of a GSA were each individually associated with youth's well being. In certain cases, research showed these three factors protected youth's well being against victimization. Furthermore, youths who participated in a GSA reported lower levels of depression and higher self-esteem.[9]

GSAs are important not only at the individual level, but also to promote the education of LGBT issues to school populations.[18] GSA's have been found to promote social activism. Researchers have argued that GSAs are a grassroots student initiated form of activism. The same researchers claimed that GSAs are important to challenge the status Quo, confront discrimination, and reconceptualize gender.[18]


LGBT youths in schools across the U.S. are subject to serious obstacles that may impact their ability to perform in school. A 2011 study found that two thirds of LGBT students reported feeling unsafe at school.[17] Some students felt so unsafe that they reported missing school due to safety concerns. The same study found that the GPA of LGBT children was, on average, half a grade lower than straight.[17] This may be an indicator that LGBT youth face different barriers to education than straight youth.

LGBT youth's school experience may impact their life decisions. LGBT youth in high school were less likely to report that they wanted to pursue further education than straight youth.[17] These findings suggest that LGBT youths' negative experiences in primary education relate to their decision not to continue on in the education system. This then robs LGBT youth of all of the opportunities that advanced education offers.

However, an active GSA on a high school campus has been associated with better academic outcomes for LGBT students. LGBT youth attending schools with an active GSA were less likely to report feeling unsafe at school and were less likely to miss school due to a threat to their safety.[8] Additionally, LGBT youths who had an active GSA at their high school reported higher educational attainment than LGBT youth who did not have a GSA on their high school campus.[9]


GSAs are associated with better mental health outcomes for LGBT students. LGBT students with a GSA in their high school reported less depression less general psychological distress and higher self-esteem than students without a GSA at their high school.[10][9] Students in schools that had an active GSA also reported less truancy[19]). LGBT students with a support club in their school also reported lower levels of victimization and suicide attempts in comparison to schools without a support group[8][19]).

GSAs have also been associated with other reduced health risk factors. LGBT students with a GSA in their high school reported more positive outcomes when it came to alcohol use and problems related to alcohol use.[10][19] LGBT students with support groups in their schools reported half as much dating violence and less casual sex.[8][19] Students with an active GSA in their high school were also less likely to be threatened or injured at school in comparison to students without an active GSA.[8]

Impact on students[edit]

GSAs are associated with benefits for LGBT students while they are attending school and beyond. The next important step is to understand why GSAs are associated with these benefits. One qualitative study found that the most beneficial aspect of a GSA was that it provides direct support to LGBTQ members and helps create a support network for LGBT students by connecting them.[20] Another qualitative study found that GSAs were beneficial to LGBTQ students because they act as a protective factor for LGBT students' educational and social experience in school. The study further explained that GSAs provided LGBT students with a sense of identity within their school, improved their self-esteem, and even provided students with courage and support to come out to their families and peers.[21]

One study investigated some of the possible factors within GSAs to discover which specific components of GSAs were associated with which beneficial outcomes. This study found that when GSA advisors served for longer periods of time, students had better health outcomes. In addition, LGBT students who perceived they had more control over their GSA experience and LGBT students who perceived their school to be more supportive had healthier outcomes. In addition, this study reported that "students level of GSA advocacy also predicted students' sense of life purpose."[22]

Impact after high school[edit]

The relationship between having a GSA in a high school and attitudes towards LGBT individuals does not end after high school. The mere presence of a GSA, whether or not students participated in said GSA, is related to students' attitudes toward LGBT people beyond their time in their high school. University students who reported having a GSA in their high school were more likely to report positive attitudes towards LGBT individuals while attending their university.[23] This was true for all students except students whom were raised in the southern U.S. where having a GSA in one's high school actually correlated with less positive attitudes toward LGBT individuals.

Impact summary[edit]

GSAs are associated with positive social academic and health outcomes for LGBT students. The relationship between having a GSA in one's high school and certain positive social outcomes is known to last beyond high school, however little beyond that is known about the long lasting associations with high school GSAs. Further research should be conducted on the lasting effects if GSAs for LGBT individuals. Researchers have also claimed that GSAs are important not only to LGBT students, but also to change the school climate as a whole to be more informed and respectful of LGBT issues. It has also been claimed that GSAs are important to get students involved in social activism. Researchers should investigate the relationship between having a GSA in a high school the school's social climate. Due to the positive associations between GSAs and student outcomes, school faculty including school psychologists and counselors should become social justice advocates for LGBTQ students by supporting GSAs on their campuses.[24]


The various accomplishments since the founding of the GSAs include:

  • GSAs have played a great leadership role in the grassroots by organizing the passage of many ground-breaking, statewide legislations, like the AB 537: The California Student Safety and Violence Prevention Act of 2000 which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • It has achieved a critical victory as the plaintiff in the first lawsuit filed under AB 537; which was a three-year settlement agreement which required the Visalia schools to enact sweeping reforms including mandatory teacher and student trainings that would be supportive to LGBT students.
  • It also helped to pass 11 key laws to protect LGBT youth and create safer school environment.
  • They also launched the National Association of GSA Networks in 2005 to unite statewide organizations to support GSAs and to accelerate the growth and impact of the GSA movement nationwide. To date, there are 40 states which have joined the National Association in the United States of America alone.[25]

History in the United States[edit]

Described as "perhaps the most important precursor of the GSA movement," Los Angeles' Project 10 is seen as the start of the GSA movement. Founded in 1984, Project 10 was widely recognised as the first organised effort to provide support for LGBTQ youth in schools across the United States. The majority of its facilitators were heterosexual, and was named after the commonly-held statistic that 10% of the adult male population is "exclusively homosexual". Project 10 focused on issues such as drug abuse, alcohol abuse, and discussing issues of high-risk sexual behavior.[2]

The first GSA was started in 1988, in Concord, Massachusetts at Concord Academy by Kevin Jennings, the founder and head of the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network GLSEN. The first public school gay–straight alliance was started at Newton South High School (Newton Centre, Massachusetts) by teacher Robert Parlin.[26] GSAs made headlines in 1999 with the Federal Court ruling in Utah–East High Gay/Straight Alliance v. Board of Education of Salt Lake City School District.[27][28] This ruling found that denying access to a school-based gay–straight alliance was a violation of the Federal Equal Access Act giving students the right to use facilities for extra curricular activities at any school that receives public funding—regardless of private standing or religious affiliation.

On January 24, 2012, Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, released a video on YouTube commemorating GSA Day and endorsing GSA clubs in schools.[29]


Approximately 28% of participants at GSA Network identify as heterosexual.[16]


Some students face opposition from school administrations, elected school boards, or local communities in starting a school GSA.

In 2015, students at Brandon High School in Rankin County, Mississippi, attempted to start a GSA, but the school board met and publicly stated they wanted to prevent the formation of "gay clubs" in the school district. They then created a policy requiring parents to provide written permission before a student can join any club. Students then protested with support from the ACLU.[30]

Students at West Carteret High School in Morehead City, North Carolina tried to start a GSA but the Carteret County Board of Education turned it down.[citation needed] In 1999, the Orange Unified School District in Orange County, California moved to prohibit the formation of a GSA at El Modena High School. The students then sued the school board, claiming that their rights under the First Amendment and the 1984 Equal Access Act had been violated. In the first-ever ruling of its kind, Judge David O. Carter of the United States District Court for the Central District of California issued a preliminary injunction ordering the school to allow the GSA to meet.[31]

The right of students to establish a GSA at school is guaranteed by both the First Amendment to the United States Constitution (with regard to every level of schooling) and the federal Equal Access Act (with regard to secondary schools as long as other student clubs are allowed, with the definition of secondary school for purposes of the federal law including middle schools and high schools).

GSAs cannot be banned if other non-curricular student clubs are allowed to exist at the school. The Federal Equal Access Act and the First Amendment of the US Constitution establish the requirement of equal treatment for all non-curriculum related clubs regardless of the content of speech at the club meetings.[16]

History outside the United States[edit]

United Kingdom[edit]

Worldwide, gay–straight alliances are not as popular as they are in the United States but are beginning to take-off slowly. In the UK, there has always been more of an emphasis on stand alone lesbian and gay youth groups that take place outside of the school setting, often funded by the local health authority or education service. The first GSA in the UK was founded in 2000 by CN Lester at Putney High School GDST, and led in part to the formation of Queer Youth Network. The second GSA in the UK was started in 2010 at Shimna Integrated College in Northern Ireland. Another GSA started in 2012 by Copland Community school in Wembley.[32] The setting up of the club has subsequently resulted in the school being known for "tackling homophobic prejudice".[32] Acland Burghley school in Camden set up a gay–straight alliance in 2012 called Connected.[33]


The first GSA in Mexico was begun by a group of students in 2004 at the American School Foundation, a private American school in Mexico City. The GSA was initially opposed by several school board members and a small group of religious conservative parents. But the students eventually won and formed the student club. The GSA's co-advisor, Ian K. Macgillivray, wrote several articles detailing his students' experiences, as well as the book, Gay-Straight Alliances: A Handbook for Students, Educators, and Parents (2007, Harrington Park Press).[34][35]


Beyond a school group the Toronto District School Board has been committed to an unwritten alliance with their students, funding the Triangle Program at OASIS Alternative School, designed for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students who are at risk of dropping out or committing self-harm because of harassment in regular schools.

The first GSA in Canada was started at Pinetree Secondary School in Coquitlam, British Columbia in 1998. The start of the Pinetree GSA garnered national media attention, and its members continued to play a role in public affairs by meeting with successive provincial Ministers of Education, testifying before the B.C. Safe Schools Task Force on anti-bullying, and delivering workshops to students and educators about LGBT-sensitive inclusive language and how to start GSAs. In early 2002, the Pinetree GSA held the first Pride Day at a high school in Canada. The Pride Day included an information fair with booths from various local LGBT organizations, PrideTalk workshops delivered in numerous classes, and an assembly with a talk on transgender rights and a performance by G.L.A.S.S., a local LGBT youth choir.

In Saskatchewan, Carlton Comprehensive High School houses one of the first GSA movements in the city of Prince Albert. The first GSA in the city of Saskatoon first met on March 18, 2003 at Mount Royal Collegiate.[36] Since then, GSAs have been established at Nutana, Walter Murray, Evan Hardy, Marion Graham, Bedford Road and Aden Bowman Collegiates. The city of North Battleford Saskatchewan, had their first GSA in 2004 at Sakewew High School, a First Nations school.

Parkside High School (Dundas, Ontario) held the first Gay–Straight-Alliance assembly in Canada, in 2011.

In Ontario, Arnprior District High school, a small rural Ottawa Valley town started a GSA created by the students in 2009. This GSA won one of three Jer's Vision "Youth Role Model of The Year" awards in April 2009.[37] The next year a GSA was founded by students in 2010 at Renfrew Collegiate Institute in the town of Renfrew.[38] As of June 5, 2012, as part of the "Safe and Accepting Schools" policy, and Bill 13, "Accepting Schools Act"(2012) of the Ontario Legislative Assembly, all Ontario school boards are required to provide support and assistance for GSA or similar programs.

In May 2010 Egale Canada launched, a website focused on GSAs and their role in making Canadian schools safer and more LGBTQ inclusive.[39] As part of's mission the site maintains an online directory of Canadian GSAs and provided resources and information to students who wish to start a GSA in their school and for teachers who wish to support them.[40] In December 2011, the government of the most populous Canadian province, Ontario, announced it would bring a legislation making it mandatory for all publicly funded schools to support the formation of "tolerance clubs" and student associations. Gay–straight clubs were to be specifically mentioned in that act. The main focus of that legislation would be to counterattack bullying of students, particularly those of a racial or sexual minority.[41]

In Bathurst, New Brunswick, Students and teachers at Superior Middle School started their own GSA and it continues to run. It is a safe haven for many LGBT+ Students in the school.


The first GSAs in the Netherlands were started in 2009. At the beginning of 2011, a nationwide campaign was started on television to promote GSAs in Dutch schools, featuring several well-known young actors and singers. A number of GSAs already exist in a wide variety of Dutch schools throughout the country, most of them at the university level, but increasingly popular on secondary school level.

New Zealand[edit]

Nelson College,[42] the Nelson College for Girls,[43] Nayland College[44][45][46] and other schools have had GSAs set up, often with the support of youth mental health bodies.[47][48][49] Kira Byrne, a GSA leader at Nelson College for Girls, says that the legalization of same-sex marriage in New Zealand in 2013 created shifts in attitudes towards LGBT people in New Zealand, but that boys at Nelson College were afraid to go to the GSA there because "other boys would wait outside to beat up anyone that came out."[43]


In Australia, the group Safe Schools Coalition Victoria piloted a system of reducing homophobia though teacher training and student groups that promote inclusion of LGBT young people.[50] Started by The Foundation for Young Australians and Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria, along with La Trobe University, the program was expanded to run Australia wide. The program is supported by Beyondblue, Headspace, the University of Canberra, Macquarie University, University of Western Sydney, Curtin University, various family planning and HIV prevention groups, government bodies and Uniting Church organizations.[51]

Hong Kong[edit]

In 2008, students at The University of Hong Kong founded Queer Straight Alliance (QSA), a registered society under Hong Kong laws.[52] For several years it was the only GSA in the city, and it serves students in all campuses through social activities, career support and advocacy. In more recent years, university students in the city have formed other student LGBT groups. However, GSA efforts in secondary schools remain limited, if any.


In 2016, Bulgaria became the first country in the Balkans to open a gay–straight alliance in Sofia American College.


The first GSA in India was started in Tagore International School in New Delhi in 2014 by a group of students and their mentor Shivanee Sen who had formed a pro-LGBT group initiative known as 'Breaking Barriers' which was the first student-led campaign in India to address LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex) issues. This group was first inspired to care and focus on the lives of oppressed students and hijras, a community of transgender women, intersex individuals, and eunuchs in India who are marginalized both socially and economically.[53] At Presidency University, Kolkata, around 100 students have formed a GSA group called Ardhek Akash, which also produces a magazine of the same name. In recent months the group has formed new chapters at Jadavpur University and St. Xavier's College—also in Calcutta—and is looking to expand further.[54]

See also[edit]


Citations in text[edit]

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  27. ^ (81 F. Supp.2d 1166, 1197 (D. Utah 1999))
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External links[edit]