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Op-ed: What Really Happens at GSAs

Op-ed: What Really Happens at GSAs


An out high school student explains why GSAs are indispensable and explains what happens when LGBT students and their straight supporters join forces.

When I tell people I started a gay-straight alliance at my high school, they always ask, "What do you do at meetings?" with a confused look on their face. The people I haven't talked to about my GSA tend to make assumptions about what we do. These include "turning students gay" and planning the ever-elusive "gay agenda." The truth is, we do our best to create a safe space where everyone is respected and accepted for who they are.

Even though most people may not realize it, high schools are often dangerous places for queer students. The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network's 2013 National School Climate Survey found that in the previous year, 74.1 percent of LGBT students were verbally harassed and 36.2 percent were physically harassed on the basis of their sexual orientation. In addition, 55.2 percent of LGBT students were verbally harassed and 22.7 percent were physically harassed on the basis of their gender identity.

The effects of the bullying, harassment, and discrimination queer students face don't end after we've been called a name or shoved. It takes its toll on our lives. We are more likely to miss school, often have lower GPAs, and are less likely to attend college. We're also more likely to be depressed, have low self-esteem, and to commit suicide. Some people argue that this is proof of the negative effects of being queer, but it isn't. It's proof of the devastating effects of homophobic and transphobic attitudes in our schools.

We are more than statistics, though. We are people in your community. We go to the high school you attend or graduated from. We are friends with your family. We are youth who are suffering because school isn't safe for us.

I walk down the hallway every day at school and I hear kids saying "That's so gay" and "Stop being a faggot." I've had people in class tell me that God hates me and that I disgust them. I have friends who avoided prom because they were afraid they'd be targeted. I know students who have food thrown at them because they're in a same-gender relationship. When you're a teenager, you're supposed to just be a kid and have fun, but we aren't allowed to.

Creating schools where things like this don't occur takes tremendous effort, and one of the steps in doing this is creating groups like gay-straight alliances that allow queer youth to feel safe and supported. Even the mere existence of a gay-straight alliance in a school can be a beacon of hope to students who are too afraid to attend a meeting.

The only answer I have to the question "What do you do at meetings?" is another question: "What don't we do at meetings?"

When something important happens in the queer community, like the passing of an antibullying bill or a celebrity coming out, we discuss it. Some days we sit in a circle and talk about our week, how school has been, and how that's made us feel. Other days we try to make our school a safer place through compiling lists of teachers who are supportive of queer students and doing things like organizing our school's Day of Silence. One of our goals is to create a support system of accepting friends, so sometimes we play games like freeze tag in the gym. We plan movie nights, we tell jokes, and we act like teenagers.

I didn't feel safe in school until I knew there were teachers and students who supported me, and that I had a safe space to come to. Through working with GLSEN as a student ambassador, I've learned that all queer students feel that way, and I've seen firsthand what a powerful impact gay-straight alliances can have. We all need a safe space, and for those of us who are queer, that space can be a gay-straight alliance. They aren't about turning students gay; they're about keeping students safe.

Nick_wilkinsx100_0NICK WILKINS is a high school junior living in Tennessee as well as a GLSEN student ambassador. Find out more about his work at

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