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GAY-STRAIGHT ALLIANCES (GSAs) IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Additional information:

The situation in Canada.
Why GSAs are so controversial.
A new book on GSAs
A memoir by the founder of GSAs

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Sponsored link.


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The situation in Canada:

Clubs in Canada appear to parallel those in the U.S. They are also typically called gay-straight alliances. By early 2000, about 50 have been organized, mainly in the provinces of British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, and Nova Scotia. Canada has about 10% of the population of the U.S., so 50 clubs in Canada would correspond to 500 in the U.S. Although most members are gay or lesbian, some heterosexual youths are motivated to join because they are appalled by homophobia in their school environment.  

The British Columbia Teachers' Federation passed a motion on 2000-MAR-21 in support of gay-straight alliances. The motion urges teachers to help establish groups in their schools. The motion was bitterly opposed by some conservative Christian groups and parents. Lucinda Cullen, a Christian mother of five children, aged 4 to 22, from Vancouver BC said: "These teachers have risen above and beyond their call of duty...Why are they delving into our children's sexual lives? Why are they so obsessed? This is so outrageous." Teacher's Federation president David Chudnovsky gave a reason. He said that teachers have a responsibility to protect all students from being bullied, regardless of their gender, race, weight, religion or sexual orientation. 

Brent Power came out of the closet in Grade 7. He had been frequently spit at, shoved around, and called a "faggot." A fellow student threatened to kill him with a knife. He ended up in hospital after having been beaten by four boys in a parking lot. Now, he is active in a local gay-straight alliance. He hopes that the clubs can counter some wild ideals, like the belief that God punishes all gays. He said, "Hopefully, we can educate others and perhaps live peaceful lives."

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Sponsored link:

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Why are GSAs so controversial?

Unfortunately, the root cause of the debate is rarely addressed. It is the public's core beliefs about the nature of homosexuality. The community remains divided between two mutually exclusive belief systems concerning sexual orientation:

Most conservative Christians believe:

Religious liberals, the mental and physical health community, gays, lesbians, bisexuals, human sexuality researchers, geneticists, and others generally believe that:
"Homosexuality" is something that you do. "Homosexuality" is something that you are.
"Homosexuality" is a lifestyle. "Homosexuality" is a sexual orientation.
A person chooses whether to become homosexual or heterosexual sometime after puberty. A person's sexual orientation is determined for them, before school age. It is not chosen.
A person who is attracted only to members of the same gender can become heterosexual through prayer and reparative therapy. A person cannot change their sexual orientation. Reparative therapy is either useless or harmful.
A heterosexual person can be "recruited" into homosexuality. People cannot be recruited into a different orientation.
God hates homosexual behavior. The Bible is silent about consensual, loving homosexual relationships.
Homosexuality is neither natural nor normal. Homosexuality is a natural, normal sexual orientation for a minority of people.

If religious conservatives continue to regard homosexual sexual orientation as chosen, changeable, unnatural and abnormal, then they will view a gay/lesbian support group as a serious threat to the community. Any policy, legislation, or group that makes it easier for a person to choose to be gay will increase the number of youths who select the "homosexual lifestyle."  According to ReligionToday, Ed Vitagliano, director of research for the conservative Christian American Family Association said: "[T]here is a broader agenda out there [to influence high schoolers to be sympathetic to the gay lifestyle." Peter Labarbera of the Family Research Council (a Fundamentalist Christian group) said some groups bring in transsexuals to talk about their lifestyles and that "the reality is there is much more going on than meets the eye." 1

According to religious conservatives, any lessening of harassment or discrimination against gays will also increase their number. School support groups tackle both factors: they facilitate mutual support among their members, and they help fight homophobia on campus and in the rest of the community. They are seen as representing a major hazard to teenagers and to society. 

Of course, if one believes that sexual orientation is not chosen or changeable, then student support groups would be seen to benefit the school's gay and lesbian population. They help gay youths cope with the homophobia that is so prevalent in society. They act to increase inclusivity and tolerance. They should be influential in lowering instances of depression and suicide among homosexual youth that are caused by homophobia.

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A new book on GSAs:

Ian Macgillivray is the author of Sexual Orientation and School Policy: A Practical Guide for Teachers, Administrators, and Community Activists (Rowman & Littlefield, (2004).

He has written a new book Gay-Straight Alliances: A Handbook for Students, Educators, and Parents which will shortly be published by Haworth Press. 2

It is intended to help:

bulletStudents organizing a new GSA in their school.
bulletTeachers and counselors working with GSAs.
bulletSchool officials handling the legal and constitutional aspects of GSAs
bulletSchool boards handling parents opposed to GSAs
bulletParents supporting their gay and lesbian children.

The book includes a copy of the 1984 Federal Equal Access Act.

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A memoir by the founder of the first GSA:

"Mama's Boy, Preacher's Son: A Memoir"
by Kevin Jennings

Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

Dave Parker wrote the following review for Amazon.com:

"The author grew up in a typical Southern Baptist environment in the 1960's and 1970's. He was harassed and persecuted for not conforming to cultural norms throughout his youth. He quickly realized that there was no support or protection available from his family, peers, school officials, or other authority figures. Conversely, his mother was dedicated to ensuring he got the education she never had."

" 'Mama's Boy, Preacher's Son' reviews Jenning's slow journey through awareness of his difference, recognizing he was gay, and overcoming the self-hate thrust on him by his peers, his father and brothers, and bigoted authority figures. While an undergraduate at Harvard, he found personal acceptance and began his public advocacy.

"As a much-loved high school teacher and counselor, he publicly supported his gay and lesbian students. This led to founding a student group that included not only gays and lesbians, but straight allies as well. This was the first ever Gay Straight Alliance."

"Word got out to other gay teachers and administrators, and Jennings was invited to speak to them about organizing GSA's in their schools to protect their gay and lesbian students. Shortly thereafter, he met another highly-supportive teacher who had started a gay-straight alliance in her school. Together they started working toward a more widespread support organization. Their goal was to help teachers and counselors everywhere teach awareness of the need for anti-harassment and anti discrimination protections at their schools. Subsequently, they banded together with several of their contacts to form the support network that became the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network (GLSEN)."

" 'Mama's Boy, Preacher's Son' is a well-written, easy read. The book chronicles the stress of facing harassment and bigotry toward gays both as a student and as a teacher in a 'diversity-affirming' private school. It shows the courage of those who stand up for right and equality. Most of all, this book demonstrates the life-long impact of a mother's dedication to her young son's success."

Nine customers' reviews unanimously gave this book a 5 star rating: the maximum available rating.

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References used:

  1. ReligionToday news summary for 2000-APR-5.
  2. "Coming soon from Haworth Press! Gay-Straight Alliances: A Handbook for Students, Educators, and Parents By Ian K. Macgillivray," at: http://www.ianmacgillivray.com/

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Site navigation:

Home page > "Hot" religious topics > Homosexuality > GSAs > here

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Copyright 2000 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2000-FEB-10
Latest update: 2006-DEC-02
Author: B.A. Robinson

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