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GSAs - What They're About And Why They Matter
Safe Zones Matter
GSAs - Gender and Sexuality Alliances, Gay Straight Alliances - are organizations that have developed in schools over the last several years as a way of helping students and staff improve diversity and resiliency within the school as a whole.
In any given school, particularly at the Grade 9 level, there are kids learning about their respective sexualities, and in many cases, they might be scared or uncertain how they will be received if they come out as gay, transgender, or gender fluid. They want to know that they will still be viewed as the same person, regardless of who they might be attracted to.
Unfortunately, not everyone is as enlightened in the 21st century as they likely should be. Whether it's racial, sexual or based on religion, diversity is not as respected as it should be. Parents may view their children with an air of anticipation, hoping for eventual grandchildren that come their way, or if the children have come out to their parents, the parents may fear for the lifestyle their children have chosen.
Regardless of the outcomes, sexuality is a very complex issue that not too many understand.
As a result, GSAs play a critical role in schools in order to help students understand that what they are going through is okay. They offer support for students who may otherwise feel marginalized or that they are outsiders. They help students understand that there are ways to help support each other and learn how to encourage others to support who they are as well.
What Does a GSA Do?
Acceptance Is Key
Kids who are struggling may not always feel that they are accepted for who they are; part of that is a function of being a teenager and learning who you are. This desire for acceptance becomes further complicated if the teen feels they might be somewhere along the LGBT spectrum.
A GSA is in place to help support students who are trying to navigate that particular part of their lives, and to encourage others on the road to acceptance as well. It's there to also help members of the GSA learn how diversity and acceptance looks in various pockets of the world, and to learn how they, too, can make a difference in areas of modern society where diversity might not be as widespread and common.
Every person can make a difference, regardless of age, and sometimes kids think that their voice might not be heard, simply because they are a kid and may not be taken seriously. The thing is, even the youngest child might have the loudest voice.
GSAs are able to help teens understand that they aren't alone. Sometimes, adolescence can be an extremely lonely part of anyone's life, and GSAs can help teens learn to lean on each other just through their daily lives or through times of crisis.
Realizing who you are can be a very complex and difficult time for anyone, so a GSA can help people realize that regardless of who they like or who they feel they might be, they are still "normal."
Society as a whole gets hung up on the ideals of what "normal" might be except the problem is, no one seems to be aware of who established what "normal" is in the first place. People need to accept that who they are is simply who they are, and that's OK, so long as they're still following the laws of the society in which they live.
GSAs can also reach out to those who identify as LGBT in other countries and let them know they are truly not alone. They can become role models for those who live in societies that are not as accepting of those who are attracted to someone of the same sex or might identify as gender fluid or otherwise.
GSAs are a critical part of schools today, and should be embraced. It's another way in which students can learn about themselves and each other, in addition to realizing that there are other supports for them throughout the school community that will help them grow towards self-acceptance.
GSA - a Safe Home for Those Who Need It
While GSAs continue to grow in high schools, there seems to be resistance at the elementary school level. However, once a student hits the Grade 7 or 8 level, that's when questions about who they like and who they sense themselves to be might really come to the fore.
There are middle schools that should consider perhaps establishing GSAs in order to help support those students who might already be having questions, or those students whose parents or siblings may have come out. Sexuality is a fluid, complex issue, and the more students can have support to help them understand and ask questions, the better they would feel supported.
No one person has all the answers - that's impossible. Also, looking up the answers online may lead to misinformation and misunderstanding, as it so often does. By working together, students and staff can reach a better understanding of sexuality and diversity as a whole.