Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Gay Straight Revolution: An Explosion of Gay-Supportive Clubs at High Schools across the Country Is Helping a Generation Become Crusaders for Equality

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Gay Straight Revolution: An Explosion of Gay-Supportive Clubs at High Schools across the Country Is Helping a Generation Become Crusaders for Equality

Article excerpt

When Javier Lopez arrived at Patrick Henry High School in Minneapolis as a freshman last year he had already told his parents he is gay and was ready to come out at school. But like many gay teens first grappling with the reality of being different, he was scared of what might happen. The urban school seemed a friendly enough place, but there was no obvious support system for gay students. So Lopez held off.

That was until a lesbian teacher, who said she understood what it was like to be a closeted teen, befriended Lopez, and together they formed a gay-straight alliance--a school club in which gay students and their friends could come together. They set up a booth at the school's "information day" and got a few students to sign up. Now Lopez, who is 16 and a sophomore, is president of the group. And he is happy. "If there wasn't a GSA, I probably wouldn't be out in high school," he says. "When I realized there was something there that could help, then I felt safe."

Jessica Jarrell, a 16-year-old junior at Bear Creek High School in suburban Lakewood, Colo., had a similar experience. Her principal was tired of hearing students utter antigay epithets in the halls and pushed the idea of forming a GSA. "She told the administration, 'This is what your students have to put up with,' and said they need to do something about it," says Jarrell. Soon the club was formed, and Jarrell was its enthusiastic leader.

As a small number of students generate headlines with high-profile battles against parents and school officials over forming GSAs in some rural areas, there's a quiet revolution of gay clubs forming in high schools across the country. Over 3,000 GSAs now exist nationwide, with chapters in all 50 states, and while that accounts for only about 15% of the nation's high schools, the number is growing almost every day. Gay teens once wary of coming out now might encounter posters in high school hallways advertising the activities of other gay students. The clubs, which are increasingly backed by teachers and administrators, provide a safe place for gay and gay-friendly students to socialize and to support each other.

And they are grooming the next generation of gay activists, who are ready to fight for full equality without hesitation. On-campus awareness campaigns, teacher training programs, and organized rallies for gay rights on and off school grounds are just a few of the activities a typical GSA might coordinate. "There's a new generation of LGBT kids who are refusing to be treated like second-class citizens," says Kevin Jennings, 42, executive director for the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network, which facilitates the formation of the clubs. "Ten years ago the adults were ahead of the students. Now the students are ahead."

The blueprint for GSAs was established in the late 1980s, when Jennings was a teacher at a private high school in Boston. A gay student there told him he didn't think life was worth living. "I developed a philosophy that every gay student was my kid," Jennings says. "I did a talk at my school about being gay, and a girl came up to me and said she wanted to start a club to help gay kids. She said her mother was a lesbian and she was tired of hearing her family get put down at the school. She said, 'I'm straight and you're gay, so let's call it a gay-straight alliance.' That was 1988."

Jennings formed GLSEN in 1990 and four years later left his teaching job to become the group's first executive director, helping GSAs form nationwide. …

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