Standing Out, Standing Together: The Social and Political Impact of Gay-Straight Alliances

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Thus, while the motive of these school clubs is to eliminate homophobia and to empower marginalized youth GSA Network ; Miceli , psychosocial theory and recent events show that early adolescents are not able to make this connection.


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The result is dangerous. While the social science literature abounds with information about GSAs within the theoretical, sociopolitical context see, e. According to the Gay-Straight Alliance Network , these student groups are. However, recent research suggests that early adolescents do not join GSAs to engage in discussions of systemic change; rather, they seek a group of like-minded peers who accept them for who they are.

For example, Griffin and others explain that. However, when the GSA is the sole agent for such activism, it is questionable how much systemic or even personal change can occur or continue. Without participation and leadership of other adults and students, addressing LGBT issues can become marginalized Furthermore, Holmes and Cahill note that well-organized groups of queer students who are interested in spearheading real change go beyond formulating GSAs at their high schools.

In many cases, however, these administrators are reluctant to mind such requests, especially in geographic areas that are not sociopolitically diverse McLaren Whereas adults have the complete sense of self to fend against these adverse reactions, early adolescents have yet to develop such skills Newman and Newman In fact, Adams and Carson find that queer students are more likely to face resistance from leadership figures within schools i.

Moreover, Schwartz et al.

Gay–straight alliance - Wikipedia

Accordingly, the real issue lies not within the adolescents themselves, but rather within the intersection between the semi-hostile school environment and the potentially toxic home environment. Therefore, it is plausible that gay-straight alliances may allow students to build a solid group identity Erikson and an affirming sense of self Newman and Newman However, while queer students might feel protected from heteronormative marginalization during their weekly GSA meetings, queer adolescents nonetheless remain vulnerable to experiencing violence in schools solely as a result of their sexual orientations or gender identities Adams and Carson ; Weststrate and McLean The number of state-recognized gay-straight alliances is on the rise GSA Network , but so too are suicides among the very group that these organizations purport to aid LGBTQ Nation This trend is curious and bothersome.

It is true that gay-straight alliances do, to some extent, create a space in which the queer student can form a strong fidelity to others with the same status. The most profound issue with these alliances is that they are only relevant for the hour-long, weekly session during which they meet. Once students leave the safe confines of their meetings, they must face the hostility of and isolation from their peers with whom they will never fully identify. Unfortunately, GSAs in the United States currently do not hold enough of a presence to support, affirm, or protect queer students.

In fact, Miceli and Uribe find that these organizations are so stigmatized that many queer students do not participate in them. As social workers, social administrators, teachers, counselors, coaches, parents, and community members, we must do more. This intervention could include, among other things, hosting guest speakers, having community open houses, discussing the importance of diversity at parent-teacher conferences or curriculum nights, mailing educational materials to parents, and others.

I add that public school faculty and staff should be required to attend annual training conferences that affirm their responsibility to be sensitive to the needs of queer students. Such training need not focus only on queer students, but rather its scope could include the entire gamut of the diversity and difference within the student body. I therefore advocate a multifaceted approach to deescalating the hostile environment that queer teens face on a daily basis: educating their superiors and role models in both the home environment as well as the school environment. This intervention is most useful in middle schools and high schools thus, at the early adolescent level for two primary reasons.

First, young people between the ages of 12 and 18 look to their elders for cues; as they near adulthood, they begin to emulate and exhibit many of the behaviors of their caregivers Newman and Newman Accordingly, a student whose caregiver is hostile toward the queer community is likely to hold an antagonistic view of this group as well. Second, because early adolescents are struggling to form allegiance to a group Erikson ; Newman and Newman , they are less interested in changing the overall system of oppression and more interested in finding people with whom they can identify and in whom they can confide.

Before any intervention of this kind is implemented, however, it is essential that the academy conduct more extensive research on the biopsychosocial needs of queer adolescents, owing to the current dearth of literature on the subject. According to Erikson , this identification with and fidelity to a group indicates a successful resolution of the early adolescent psychosocial crisis.

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