(GSAs) IN PUBLIC SCHOOLS
The situation in Canada.
Why GSAs are so controversial.
A new book on GSAs
A memoir by the founder of GSAs
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
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
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."
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
|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
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
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:
|Students organizing a new GSA in their school.|
|Teachers and counselors working with GSAs.|
|School officials handling the legal and constitutional aspects of GSAs|
|School boards handling parents opposed to GSAs|
|Parents supporting their gay and lesbian children.|
The book includes a copy of the 1984 Federal Equal Access Act.
A memoir by the founder of the first GSA:
"Mama's Boy, Preacher's Son: A Memoir"
by Kevin Jennings
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
Nine customers' reviews unanimously gave this book a 5 star rating: the maximum
- ReligionToday news summary for 2000-APR-5.
- "Coming soon from Haworth Press! Gay-Straight Alliances: A Handbook for
Students, Educators, and Parents By Ian K. Macgillivray," at:
Copyright © 2000 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on
Originally written: 2000-FEB-10
Latest update: 2006-DEC-02
Author: B.A. Robinson