GSAs, or Gay-Straight Alliances, are school organizations which exist to make members of all sexual and gender orientations feel welcome and safe, primarily in the sometimes confusing and ignorant world that is high school. They can also be found in middle schools and universities, sometimes under alternate names which try to sound less gay-exclusive (see below). GSAs endeavor to educate the school community about GLBTQ issues, and create a more positive school environment that is accepting of people of any orientation.

GSA History


The Gay Straight Alliance website reports that the first GSA-type club was founded in Europe over 50 years ago. Kevin Jennings, founder of GLSEN, takes credit for forming the first American GSA, circa 1988, although it's plausible that groups with similar aims existed before then. Meanwhile, GLSEN reports registering over 3000 GSAs. Other organizations such as the GSA Network claim to have helped to form and connect GSAs in 50% of California high schools alone. GSAs are also currently growing in number in Canada and elsewhere abroad.


GSAs were formed to fight the pervasive homophobia in many sectors of society, working alongside a gay movement that has grown stronger and more visible in the past few decades. Despite the modern history of gay activism, many people do not understand the implications of not simply being straight, or not even knowing what gender one really is. Ignorance breeds contempt, fear, teasing, persecution. Too many people have been lost because they did not know there was somewhere they could go. GSAs offer safe havens and like minds, and are all the stronger because they include accepting straight people in their ranks.


The existence of GSAs isn't nearly as interesting as the controversy surrounding that fact. That many people do not want to allow GSAs to meet at all -- who either misunderstand GSA's aims, or understand them fully and do not like them -- shows that GSAs have their work cut out for them. GSAs are generally protected under the 1st Amendment (freedom of assembly, freedom of expression) in United States public schools. However, sometimes they are denied school sponsorship and the ability to publicize their existence. Some schools even disband all clubs rather than be forced to let GSA continue. I can't speak for private schools, but seeing as private education is generally undertaken at one's (or one's guardian's) own will, they are under less or no obligation to allow a GSA; YMMV.

Goals of a GSA

"Isn't it just a hookup club for gay kids?" No. Although there has been a lot of progress made toward tolerance of LGBTQ people and their lifestyles, there is still a lot of stigma surrounding coming out and being lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/transsexual, or just plain questioning your orientation. Furthermore, friends of LGBTQ people can also suffer discrimination and isolation. GSAs exist so that students know there is a place where they can meet other people who understand what they may be going through. If you've ever felt bullied and isolated, you will know how important this opportunity is.

GSAs try to promote positive awareness and understanding of LGBTQ issues -- from the impact of AIDS on the entire community, to just what being gay means. This is often accomplished by organizing participants in the Day of Silence, National Coming Out Day, Ally Week, and other activities. Also, "straight allies" are critically important: whether they know it or not, most people probably have a LGTBQ friend or relative, and if people see a straight person who associates with "queers," they may reconsider the impact of their own attitudes and behavior.

To put it simply, GSAs exist to prove that LGBTQ people are, indeed, everyday people like you and me. Knowing that makes it a lot harder to be hurtful and intolerant. And GSAs exist to reassure their members of this, too.

"What do you do in a GSA?"

What do you normally do when you hang out with friends? A meeting might be just sitting and chatting about school and life. Meetings at my GSA have involved or will involve:
  • Planning a float for the homecoming parade
  • Discussing LGBTQ-related literature
  • Watching movies, either LGBTQ-themed or just fun and flaming
  • Preparing for the Day of Silence
  • Making videos on GSA's purpose and LGBTQ tolerance
  • Fundraising for club activities
  • Advertising for Pride Prom
  • Trying to recruit more members
The possibilities, quite simply, are endless.

GSA Membership

"I'm not gay, or lesbian, or whatever, but..."

Not everyone at GSA is gay! Remember, one of the most important characteristics of a GSA is its incorporation of straight people who are uncomfortable with the way GLBTQ folk are sometimes treated. And generally, it's not polite to assume someone at the club is gay -- or to ask. Would you ask such a question of a stranger you passed in the hall? No? Then why ask in the classroom? (To illustrate that not everyone in a GSA is gay, as the treasurer of my own high school GSA, I know several friends who attend our meetings who are quite straight. But this isn't the point. The point is that orientation makes no difference in who you are and how you should be treated. Somehow, it takes a lot of telling before people grasp this primary theme of GSA.)

"Okay, so how do I join?"

Oftentimes, school websites advertise the existence of all school organizations, including where and when they meet. This is a good first resource. You might also want to watch the halls for posters, or inquire to a counselor. Many schools, of course, still don't have a GSA, but this is merely an opportunity for a group of friends to start their own!


Having transferred from a private Catholic school to a (co-ed!) public school, one of the first things I did was seek out the GSA. Even though I've long learned to turn a deaf ear toward one-off insults, I can attest that meeting and knowing so many supportive friends and faculty brightens one's mood a lot. If you're in school and looking for support, companionship, and friendship -- doesn't matter if you're gay or straight, boy or girl or in between -- I highly recommend joining or organizing a GSA. Oh, and as for my orientation...who cares? I would have joined regardless.

Notes and Thanks

Timeshredder pointed out the rather lacking American history I originally provided. If anyone knows of US GSAs before 1988, feel free to /msg me and I'll update and expand accordingly.
Apollyon informs me that "The local university calls their lbgtq soc 'FAB GLITTER'" -- Fetish, Allies, Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Intersexed, Transgender, Transsexual Engendering Revolution. Talk about a mouthful...ooh, don't take that the wrong way...


Gay Straight Alliance -
Gay-Straight Alliance Network -
GLSEN: Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network -
ACLU lawsuits for GSAs - Wikipedia -


GSA Network has several useful pages on finding and organizing GSAs:
California GSA directory -
How to Start a GSA -
Resources -

Everybody's journey is individual,” says author James Baldwin. “If you fall in love with a boy, you fall in love with a boy.  The fact that many Americans consider it a disease says more about them than it does about homosexuality.” His perception is exactly right: homophobia only exists due to a lack of understanding of how homosexuals think and live. The only way to right this wrong and allow gays and lesbians to live freely in our society is to educate people on what being gay really means, instead of letting the stereotypes persist. Gay-Straight Alliances-- local pro-gay rights organizations centered around youth—have volunteered for the tough task of educating students on what being gay really means. Also known as GSAs, their official goal is to make the school community safe and welcoming for every student, regardless of their gender identity (yes, there are more than two genders) or their sexual preferences. To many teenagers, who get bullied or harassed for their sexual orientation or are misunderstood because of it, the mission of the GSA is vital.

            Now I am an active member of my school’s GSA, but my first experience of it came when I was a lot less mature than I am now. The elementary- and middle-school String Orchestras would play their concerts at the high school, which was the only building with a stage large enough to hold all of us squirming little twerps and our cellos. In the music room that we used as a coat-room, my friends and I spotted a poster advertising the Gay-Straight Alliance for any student interested. We pointed and giggled and stared, wondering what such a club could possibly do during its meetings. Gay orgies seemed the most likely possibility, but we also discussed anarchist plots to make Elton John president and parties in which they painted the surface of their bodies rainbow and then streaked around the school. That was a temporary amusement, however, and with the exception of a gym teacher we dubbed a “lesbo,” the issue was mostly forgotten by the time we entered high-school.

By the tenth grade, when my class entered the high school, I had realized there was nothing really wrong with homosexuality, but I mostly ignored the issue completely. I had a few gay friends by then, encouraged to come out at a young age by the liberal and receptive atmosphere of the area in which I live, but it didn’t change my perception of them. It was an interesting possibility, but I never viewed it as anything that touched my life at all. I joined other clubs, like Author’s Club and the Science Bowl team. The former led to my first real discovery of what the GSA was about. I had decided to write a Great American Novel with a gay character who lived in the fifties and encountered discrimination, but I was stuck. The school librarian, who supervised us, suggested I walk upstairs and pay a visit to the Gay-Straight Alliance. I grabbed my manuscript of about four pages and headed out, carefully avoiding my German teacher when I spotted her coming around the corner, and soon arrived at the other end of the school, in an unassuming classroom in the science wing. After hesitantly knocking on the door, I was suddenly bombarded with cries of my name. I looked around the room and saw, to my surprise, a lot of my close friends buried in the circle of desks that spanned the room. I said hello, asked my questions, and left with a movie recommendation and a couple of cookies, but no real interest in coming back.

That November, my best friend came out to me. It didn’t surprise anyone except me, because even though he was a fan of Legally Blonde at age ten and had the telltale lisp, when he told me he wasn’t gay a couple years earlier, I chose to believe him. We talked about it until we were both comfortable with its discussion, but since he wasn’t yet ready to tell his family, he suggested we join the GSA for a sort of stepping stone. I agreed, out of both a desire to support my friend and out of a growing interest in the subject itself. We attended its first meeting of 2008, and discovered we fit right in.

Actually, it’s tough not to fit into the GSA. It’s a group that could encompass every single student in the school, if they had the desire to join. Our group has about three confirmed gays, a smattering of bisexuals, and lots of straight supporters like myself, but one great thing about the GSA is that no one cares which group you belong to. Most of us were friends with each other prior to joining, but new faces are never assumed to be gay. In fact, a newbie’s sexual orientation isn’t even considered. Usually it comes up in the course of discussion, but no matter what you choose to reveal or not to reveal, no one pushes you for information. If any member tried to wheedle personal information like that out of someone, the rest of the group would be horrified. What you don’t choose to share is your business alone, and that is certainly respected within the group. Straight members are valued just as much as the homosexuals. Prospective members, allay your fears!

            Every Wednesday we converge in the chemistry classroom and pull the desks into a circle in the area that isn’t taken up by lab equipment, and all sit facing each other, with our two teacher-advisors mixed in. One is the school social worker, and the other is the chemistry teacher who inhabits the classroom, and who is gay himself. We pass around a package of cookies, our traditional snack, until we’ve had our fill (they’re gone pretty quick). Then we do our ritual known as “Highs and Lows.” I am not entirely certain whether this is standard for GSA groups or unique to us, but the meeting has not officially begun until we’ve done this. Going around the circle, each person shares their high point and the low point of the time since the last meeting. It doesn’t have to be something GLBT-related: most of the highs center around our social lives, other school clubs, and achievements, and the lows are generally centered around schoolwork or occasionally an account of homophobia or a debacle with a parent over the student’s sexuality. This segues into some sort of activity that is actually relevant to GLBT issues. They are often activities planned by our co-presidents, who come up with some very interesting ideas. We have written down anonymous questions to discuss with the group, and on a separate occasion we read out loud definitions of transgender-related words and then shared our opinions. If they are out of ideas, we could watch a documentary or talk about current events, including articles in the school paper. We have also gone on an unofficial field trip to see the movie Milk, and watched a video a student created advertising the Day of Silence (an occasion to be addressed below). All conversations are extremely open-minded, intelligent, and fair, with lots of perspectives being represented because of the diversity of our members. For a humorous example, one of the Juniors in the group had the courage to mention his affinity for masochism. At first, everyone was a little surprised because of the mantra “It’s about love!” but after our initial double-take we all silently came to the conclusion that since tolerance of sexual preference is our mission, it was just another thing we were mature enough to take in stride. The conversation continues for about an hour, until we are so stuffed with cookies we can barely walk, and then we all ride the bus home.

            Outside of meetings, our major activity is the Day of Silence every April. The name speaks for itself. For one school day (from about seven in the morning to three in the afternoon), those participating don’t talk at all, to represent the silence that those who aren’t safe enough to come out must endure. It’s a fun (and national) challenge, and afterwards we meet in the chemistry room and have a party (a very loud party, since we haven’t talked all day) and eat even more cookies. Those who aren’t in the GSA are also invited to join us in our protest, as long as they take it just as seriously and don’t abuse it to get out of oral presentations. I have personally encountered adults in the building who see it as a silly bid for attention, but it hasn’t affected our spirit at all. It’s definitely the big happening of the GSA year. Our other activity is the Ice Cream Social, to which parents are invited. Its purpose is to orient parents to what it means for their son or daughter to be gay (or not), by speaking to other parents and a bona-fide gay adult, our advisor. It’s really a brilliant idea, since the presence of ice cream will lighten any situation.

            Because of the influence of the people I have met through this club, I no longer give a second thought to anyone’s sexual orientation. When friends come out to me it’s a little anticlimactic, because that fact is no more important to our friendship than what they had for dinner the night before (unless they’re cannibals, of course). No one in the group is embarrassed, no one is shy, and I think that is important for everyone, since sex is only recently being recognized as nothing to be afraid of. I was never a homophobe, but now I feel that I can be an active force for good and equality for everyone, gay or black or female or masochist. The existence of a powerful force for tolerance like the Gay-Straight Alliance shows the world that the progress of equality is inevitable. Teenagers like us are just helping it along.

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