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<21: lgbt youth voice - When Neutrality Is Bad News
June 21, 2012
by Austin R.

High schools offer a multitude of different clubs and organizations, many of which are student-run. Diversity Club, African American Club, and in my conservative Christian town, the highly esteemed Fellowship of Christian Athletes. However, even though 4,000 Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) in the United States were registered as of 2008, the mere mention of this club can strike a note of controversy among parents. The concept of their children seeing posters in the hallways promoting the acceptance of an abused minority is astounding to some conservative community members.

But this opinion has not necessarily been passed down to the generation now attending high school. Many students at my high school are, in fact, very supportive of the concept of a Gay-Straight Alliance. They would welcome the idea of gay marriage, equal civil rights for homosexuals, and openly gay members of their society.

When I started the GSA at my school in the fall of 2010, I was a sassy sophomore interested only in the concept of equal rights, not knowing where I planned on going with the club itself. At the first meeting, we had 16 solid members, but they were all dragged along by one of my good friends. At the next meeting, our group was a mere four members strong.

I was elected “president” of the, at that time, merely makeshift club. Throughout the year, we attempted many activities, such as an organized “gay? fine by me” T-shirt Day and the Day of Silence, a national effort when students take a vow of silence to call attention to the silencing effect of anti-LGBT bullying. All of our activities were met with not negative, not positive, but completely neutral feedback.

Neutral. The student body was in a complete and total gray area when posters were plastered around school, advertising a day for all students who purchased a “gay? fine by me” shirt to wear it. About four students participated in the day, three of them GSA members. Although a portion of the parents in the community were in an uproar, the students were barely reacting.

This gray area was not necessarily a bad thing, but it made me think of the well-known phrase “no news is good news” – with a twist. In our case, “no news” was much worse than bad news. In fact, no news WAS the bad news. Bad news would have, in fact, been good news. Bad news would have given a reason for the Gay-Straight Alliance’s existence -- to prevent the bullying of LGBTQIA youth in the school. But the population was a statue.
My experience showed me that there are ways that Gay-Straight Alliances can fail to achieve their goal without negative actions working against them.

One way is like my situation – a neutral student body. Our group is still facing that same reaction. Although there may be some people caught between opinions or having their ideas swayed, I’m finding that this situation is a nigh unfixable one. Without hours of effort put into planning large events and the work of dozens of people, this situation is tough to escape.

Another way is one that another school in my district has had to deal with: a large rebelling of students. This situation, however, is one that’s more easily dealt with. Not only that, but it displays much more fruit for the efforts of students involved on both sides. One side gets the satisfaction of teaching the opposing body acceptance, while the learning side is able to become more open-minded to varying groups around them.

Many forces can attempt to keep a Gay-Straight Alliance down besides the ones listed. In some situations, keeping the club running may seem like a fruitless effort.

But when things seem that way, I try to remember this quote from daytime talk show host Ellen Degeneres: “Things will get easier. People’s minds will change, and you should be around to see it.”

Austin R. is a high school student in the Kansas City
metropolitan area.
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