http://danvillesanramon.com/print/story/print/2008/11/28/guest-opinion-gay-straight-alliances-fight-discrimination-at-schools


Danville Express

Perspective - November 28, 2008

Guest opinion: Gay Straight Alliances fight discrimination at schools

by Lauren Gareau

As members of the LGBTQQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, Questioning, and Intrasex) "come out" at younger ages, they face more and harsher discrimination than ever before. Many are even realizing and admitting their sexuality in high school. In such situations, they face bullying and harassment that has a huge effect on them. According to GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network), only 30 percent of LGBTQQI students who experience high frequencies of physical harassment say they will go on to college.

But there is no need to fear anymore; many high schools now have a club known as the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA). High school GSAs are student-run clubs that aim to help protect kids who feel discriminated against, to discourage homophobic bullying and harassment, and to educate people in the community.

This year, the Monte Vista Gay-Straight Alliance hosted a week of action from Oct. 13-18 known as Ally Week. Ally Week teaches no tolerance for discriminatory remarks regarding someone's sexual orientation. It was established in 2005 by members of GLSEN's Jump-Start National Student Leadership Team.

The Monte Vista GSA promoted Ally Week by announcing it every day over the bulletin, passing out rainbow ribbons for students to wear as a symbol of support, encouraging teachers to treat cases of homophobia as they would treat cases of racism, and posting hundreds of colorful posters and flyers with the phrase, "Be an Ally, Be the Change." The posters were meant to send the message that change can happen with small steps, and the first step must be joining the cause. By being an ally, students did their part to help their peers feel safe at school.

There has been some controversy over Ally Week. The Hayward Unified School District (HUSD) promoted Ally Week on all its campuses. GLSEN encourages schools that host Ally Week to have their students sign pledge cards stating that they will take "a stand for a safe ... school for all students ... (refrain from using) anti-LGBT language or slurs, intervene ... in situations where others are using anti-LGBT language or harassing other students, and actively supporting safer schools efforts." Some parents felt that this was very inappropriate. It has been reported that even kindergarteners were told to sign these pledge cards. Although it is not known what exactly transpired in every classroom, the goal of Ally Week is to create an inclusive and safe environment for all students at all schools, not to force youths to change their beliefs.

The Monte Vista GSA held a very important meeting Thursday, Oct. 16. During this meeting, members wrote down stories about the issues they had faced that week on post-its. The post-its were then collected and read out loud. Members then discussed what to do when put into a situation like that. Members also discussed what they did to help promote Ally Week and how much of a success it had been. Ally Week inspired people by saying they could be the change by preventing people from discriminating against their peers.

The San Ramon Valley Unified School District has a GSA at each of its high schools (California, Dougherty Valley, Monte Vista and San Ramon Valley). Some of these GSAs have been around for a while, like San Ramon Valley's, and some have just been added, like Dougherty Valley's. Each club does its part to cultivate and maintain a safe environment for its school.

Monte Vista's GSA club has been in existence on and off for the past 16 years. The current GSA was reinstated in the 2006 school year by senior Kevin Peruch, junior Simone Miller and sophomore Rachel Horn. This is the fourth consecutive year for Monte Vista's GSA.

GSA has a meeting almost every Thursday where they do anything from planning events, to supporting peers who have recently faced harassment or bullying, to just hanging out. The Monte Vista GSA tries to stop all discrimination from happening by educating others about why homophobic phrases are wrong and hurtful, gathering and reporting data about cases of harassment and bullying, and encouraging members to intervene when they witness acts of homophobia.

GSA Network, founded in 1998, is the parent organization of GSAs. Its purpose is to connect school-based GSAs to each other and to community resources. Within GSA Network's first year, it expanded to 40 clubs in schools in the San Francisco Bay Area; by 2001 it had become a statewide organization. Today the organization has more than 650 clubs and 8,000 activists, representing 50 percent of California high schools.

GSA Network and local GSAs have done a lot to teach about homophobia and its effects. They have been extremely successful in fighting discrimination, harassment and violence in schools based on sexual orientation. They help not only in educating students but also in educating adult members of local communities. Their goal is to promote equality among Californians. GSA Network and school-based GSAs are helping to make the state of California better in understanding and accepting of gay, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender, queers and questioning.

Lauren Gareau, 14, is the media coordinator for the Monte Vista Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA).

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