The GSA Difference: LGBTQ and Ally Experiences in High Schools with and without Gay-Straight Alliances
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We examine the lived experiences of high-school students who participated in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ)-centered activism of some kind, highlighting the promise of gay-straight alliance groups by comparing the experiences of students at schools with gay-straight alliances (GSA schools) with the experiences of students at schools that did not have an LGBTQ-specific group (no-GSA schools). We compare students at GSA and no-GSA schools based on their experiences of harassment, experiences of support from authority figures, and patterns of friendships. We find that students at both types of schools experienced harassment and heard negative comments about lesbian and gay people. However, students at GSA schools reported more support from teachers and administrators than students at no-GSA schools, who have stories of teachers and administrators actively opposing equality for LGBTQ people. Students at GSA schools reported a wide variety of friendships across sexual identities, while students at no-GSA schools felt more isolated and withdrawn. This much-needed qualitative comparative analysis of students’ experiences brings a human face to the improved quality of life that schools with gay-straight alliances can bring to young people.
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