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Gay-Straight Alliance necessary for school’s growth

– Beryl Kessio

Editor’s Note:  Beryl is a student at Sparkman High School which is in the Madison County school system.  (Harvest, Alabama)  She is Editor-in-chief of the school’s newspaper, The Crimson Crier.

History has been made at the school with the formation of a Gay-Straight Alliance, and I am proud to call myself an Ally.  After the long announcement read by Erin Coggins introducing the club, students and even teachers seemed confused about the motives of the club. “What is a Gay-Straight Alliance and why do we need one here?” they asked.

In essence, a GSA is a school club in which lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, straight and questioning students converge to discuss significant issues that we all face in a safe, accepting atmosphere. One firm rule of the GSA is that students are never to ask another student to discuss their sexual orientation unless he or she volunteers that information.

Sorry to disappoint those who thought we would be traipsing through the halls with rainbow flags and glitter bombs parading our sexualities. We have a more savory mission: we are advocates for all students; maintaining a safe learning environment in our school is paramount to the club, along with promoting acceptance and awareness throughout the community.

We need this club now more than ever.  Our school’s motto—excellence our tradition, diversity our strength—embodies the need for the GSA; we are a school filled with voices aching to be heard.

In many parts of the word, it can be deadly to be anything other straight. Even here, there are unspoken hindrances placed upon those who identify with certain labels.

It seems that the odds are stacked against LGBTQ youth. Bullying is a staggering problemfor those who identify as or are assumed to LGBTQ. According to a 2009 survey by the CDC, of more than 7,000 LGBT students aged 13–21 found that in the past year—because of their sexual orientation—eight out of 10 had been verbally harassed and six out of 10 felt unsafe at school. Suicide rates among LGBTQ youth are especially high compared to other groups. Even as our understanding of human sexuality evolves, there is one thing everyone can agree on:  students can never reach their full potential if they are targets of hatred and insolence. All of this points to the need for safe environments in which youth can be themselves without fear of reproach from their peers.

Today, we have labels for every subset of human interest— “Directioners,” “Whovians,” “Potterheads” and “Deadheads” are a few. There are endless boxes we can check; we as a society categorize ourselves to oblivion. Do not misunderstand; labels provide us with a collective culture we can identify with. There comes a point, however, when we must ask ourselves when our inherent urge to classify does more harm than good. When it comes to sexuality, labels are often misconstrued. They oversimplify. No label captures the deep, innate complexity of what it means to be a human being.

In the GSA, we call each other Allies. I am an Ally because I choose to illuminate the shadows cast by ignorance. Allies transcend those labels that are placed on us, allowing us to interact without bias or pretense, without judgement or condemnation, because before we are straight or gay, we are people.

The school has a place where all students, regardless of identifier, can show solidarity by celebrating the characteristics that make us beautiful individuals, and that is something I have no shame in being a part of.

(Republished with permission of the author)