Today is National Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) Day, a day to “strengthen the bond between LGBT people and straight allies” by recognizing the critical role that GSAs play in schools nationwide. GSAs are student-run extracurricular clubs that bring together LGBT and straight students to support each other, promote acceptance and are common in public school districts throughout the nation. They are crucial to providing a safe, supportive environment for LGBT students to educate the school community about homophobia, gender identity and sexual orientation issues.
The ACLU has long fought illegal school efforts to block students from forming GSAs, including most recently in Tennessee and Texas. Additionally, last year, the U.S. Department of Education issued a letter to school districts around the country reinforcing students’ legal right under the federal Equal Access Act to form GSAs.
Last year, the ACLU released a short video informing students how they could start a GSA in their school.
National GSA Day is also a powerful reminder of the challenges that continue to confront LGBT students nationwide. Discrimination, harassment, and even physical abuse, are often part of LGBT students’ daily lives at school. A 2009 study of more than 7,000 LGBT middle and high school students across the U.S. found that nine out of ten reported experiencing harassment at their school within the past year based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, and two-thirds said they felt unsafe at school because of who they are. Thankfully, there is legislation in Congress that would address this serious problem head on.
The Student Non-Discrimination Act, legislation currently pending in Congress, would have a profound impact in improving the lives of LGBT students in the U.S. by ensuring that discrimination and harassment of students on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity has no place in our country’s public elementary and secondary schools.