Triumphs and Setbacks of Gay Straight Alliances

By Jeffrey Hartinger

Originally published on Advocate.com August 01 2011 5:40 PM ET

In 2009, The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network released a survey concluding that 90 percent of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students experienced harassment in the school setting. Two years later on June 14, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced in a letter that gay-straight alliance groups should have the same rights and protections as other clubs at secondary public schools.

This stance represents the long struggle for LGBT youth, allies, and advocates in the fight for acceptance and equality in the school environment.

There are now more than 4,000 gay-straight alliances in schools throughout the United States. Since the late '80s, there have been many ups and downs for gay-straight alliances, both at public and private schools. The Advocate takes a closer look at a sample of occurrences that have changed the face of gay-straight alliances in America.GSA HIGH SCHOOL LOCKERS STUDENTS TEENS X390 (PHOTOS.COM) | ADVOCATE.COMSeptember 2011: After months of controversy, the the Kennewick School District in Kennewick, Wash., changed its stance and announced at a packed school board meeting that it had decided to allow a GSA the same privileges it afforded other clubs, including full access to resources, like the school public address system, newspapers, and yearbooks.

Students rejoiced at the news, saying they were glad to have all clubs considered equal. Kennewick, Wash. Schools Reverse Position on Student Clubs X390 (GRAB) | ADVOCATE.COMMarch 2011: Rhode Island State representative Dan Gordon stated that youth at Tiverton High School were being “sexed-up” because of their GSA, in addition to saying the school should lose state funding. Gordon, a Republican, furthered his stance on a Providence radio station that drew much criticism from both the media and the general public.

Update: A few months later, Arne Duncan published his letter regarding equal rights and protections for gay-straight alliances; hopefully paving the way for further acceptance and tolerance.TIVERTON HIGH SCHOOL 2 X390 (TIVERTON GOV) | ADVOCATE.COM2006: The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida filed a motion to allow students at Okeechobee High School to meet for their GSA club, which was formed the year before. The school had an “abstinence-only” policy for sex education curriculum, which school officials claimed would be violated if they allowed the club to meet.

Update: In July 2008, a Florida federal court ruled that the state must allow GSAs to meet. The judge, K. Michael Moore, stated that GSAs do not interfere with abstinence-only education and that schools must provide for the well-being of LGBT students, which made Florida the first state in the nation to take this progressive stance.OKEECHOBEE HIGH SCHOOL X390 (WIKI) | ADVOCATE.COM 2002: The Boyd County Board of Education in Boyd, Ky. suspended all clubs in the district — kindergarten through 12th grade — in order to prevent a gay-straight alliance from forming. The club was petitioned after many homophobic incidents, including one where students rallied together and stated that they needed to “take all the fucking faggots out in the back woods and kill them.”

Update: In 2004, officials eventually gave the students in the gay rights club permission to meet at Boyd County High School after a lengthy legal battle.BOYD COUNTY HIGH SCHOOL X390 (.EDU) | ADVOCATE.COM

1998: The ACLU, Lambda Legal, and NCLR, on behalf of the East
High Gay Straight Alliance, file a lawsuit against the Board of
Education of Salt Lake City for not allowing the gay rights group from
meeting on school property.

Update: In 2000, it was deemed
that the First Amendment rights of the students were violated and they
were given permission to meet. As a result, the Salt Lake City School
Board reversed its decision and all clubs — including GSAs — were
permitted to meet on campus. Years later, Disney's hit High School Musical was filmed at East High.

HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL X390 (GRAB) | ADVOCATE.COM1988:  The first gay-straight alliance was formed at Concord Academy, a
college prep high school in Concord, Massachusetts, by then-teacher Kevin
Jennings. He went on to establish GLSEN, and most recently, Jennings
served as the Assistant Deputy Secretary for the Office of State and
Drug-Free Schools at the United States Department of Education under
President Obama.