The University of Kentucky's guide to the GSA and OUTsource

Gay Straight Alliance

Today’s generation of young people are becoming increasingly more aware and open about their sexual orientation at a younger age. Many youth as they come out about their sexual orientation are confused about what the terms gay, bisexual, lesbian, or transgendered really mean. Children fear telling others what they feel because all their life they are taught that having feelings for their same gender is different and wrong. The children are not the only ones who are fearful though. In an article by Karen Harbeck she states that after interviewing school teachers and counselors many still fear that if they support the LGBT community that their colleagues will label them as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender as well even though they know they have a professional mandate to support and look after all their students (Harbeck 169-176). Many students are not confident and secure enough in their self identity to always stand up from themselves so if the adults and leaders around campus are also scared to support and protect these students then many of them may go through an immense amount of verbal and physical abuse. The GSA or Gay Straight Alliance was brought about to inform students and faculty about what it really means to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender to cut down on the violence prevalent in schools all over the world. As it becomes more common in many cultures for people to express their sexual preferences at early ages it is very important to inform the youth of these terms. As the people become more educated of them the will be more understanding and less likely to verbally or physically harm one of their peers. The organization’s motto is to “promote peace and understanding while attempting to prevent violence and harassment” (Gsanetwork.org). The GSA club meets every Thursday at seven PM in the top floor of the Student Center. The meetings are open to anyone and are a great way to get to know peers and become informed of the everyday struggles students face.

Colleges and Universities are not the only places starting GSA clubs. They are becoming prevalent in high schools and grade schools as well. Often there are cases of harassment or bullying as early as infancy. During my sit in on a GSA meeting one student, who wished to remain anonymous told a story about his nephew. For his nephews fourth birthday he received an easy bake oven. He said that his extended family was shocked that the parents allowed him to have an easy bake oven that was typically seen as a little girl’s toy. The parents though did not see any problem with it because their son loved to bake and it was something he was passionate about at the time. From an early age children are taught that Barbie’s and other dolls are only for little girl’s while Lego’s and trucks were for little boy’s. They are taught that men should be masculine and women should be feminine. As they grow older this is not always the case and many times they are ridiculed and bullied most of their life by their peers for being “different.” In an interview with Jeffery Oser, a four year member of the University of Kentucky’s GSA club, he said that as early as grade school he would get bullied by his peers for being involved in feminine activities such as dance and theater. He said that most of the bullying was done by groups of four or five kids and it always intimidated him to be up against that many other children (Oser). As GSA clubs are becoming more established in the community they not only help the school they are involved with they also are beneficial to the surrounding community as well. As people become educated with the struggles of the lives of the LGBT community they also become useful tools in spreading their new found knowledge members in their town. There is a domino effect constituted with this that spreads new information all over the community. This is not the only advantage of the GSA, there are many more proven benefits related to participation in this organization.

Benefits of GSA:

There have been many recently proven benefits to being part of an organization such as the GSA. Researchers have found that many of the have to do with the direct support offered to students and the focus on developing and supporting individual and collective empowerment (Wells, Wisneski, Kane 307-328). Forming a trusted relationship with peers and other leaders around campus is a way for students to feel more comfortable in their surroundings. This leads many students to gain a great amount of confidence and self-efficacy. The GSA also focus’ on training student leaders; Many students opt to participate in leadership exercises and retreats that teach them the importance of leadership and how to effectively communicate to their peers and other people in their life. Having this new found confidence gives them the ability to participate in more school related groups and have an increased sense of school spirit. After forming these strong bonds many students often reach out and apply for leadership positions around campus and continue to take on new endeavors all throughout their life. Jeffery Oser is one example here in Lexington of a student who early in life felt as if he had no one to relate to and was bullied on a daily basis for being too “girly,” but now at the age 24 he often speaks at local grade schools and high school outside of the GSA organization to educate students of the -LGBT community and share his story with the children. He also works with the Youth Prevention Hotline and PFLAG in Lexington, KY on a weekly basis. Learning communication skills will not only help them become more involved within the GSA organization but also encourage them to participate in other school groups and activities.

To learn more about how to get involved with PFLAG in Lexington visit: PFLAG.com

            Besides having many benefits related to self identity and assurance being a part of a GSA has been proven to have many educational outcomes as well (Wells, Wisneski, Kane 307-328). An experiment conducted by N. Eugene Walls, Sarah B. Kane, and Hope Wisneski in 2011 proved that there were increases in students study habits, desire to attend class, and interest in course work after they began to participate in GSA clubs. When interviewing Jenny, a sophomore here at the University of Kentucky, she stated “Before joining our GSA club here in the spring of my freshman year I honestly had no interest in going to class or doing homework and would have rather sat in my room all day and watch Netflix and not talk to anyone. By attending one meeting with a friend I immediately felt comfortable with the people and was able to open up and wanted to share my stories with everyone.”  For Jenny the GSA was a turning point in her academic career and helped her get back on track. The support gained from the members of this organization is a great stimulator to push students to become interested in their school work and relationships. It helps them to feel as if they have people there for them that they can relate to and have gone through similar events in their life. Knowing they are not alone at school and even in life makes it easier for them to open up and share their struggles and accomplishments they may have felt they could never have told anyone before.

The Importance of GSA’s and Diversity:

Even with the presence of organizations such as the GSA all around the Nation, there is still much controversy when discussing the LGBT community. The GSA and the LGBT community are both very controversial topics that spark grueling debates worldwide. Just fifty years ago it was highly unusual for someone to identify themselves as gay, lesbian, transgender, or bisexual. Today these are terms many people of all ages use to describe their sexual preferences. Over the past few decades there have been many people on each side of the spectrum with very strong opinions regarding their thoughts on the LGBT community. Many people are fine with the LGBT community and feel indifferent about their choice of sexual partners and lifestyles or even want to work with the LGBT community to inform others about their struggles and hardships they face every day. But there is also another side to the argument. There are still many other people in the world that believe that their choice of sexual preference is wrong. They believe that it is against their religion for a man to like other men or a woman to like other women. The strictly believe every man should be masculine and every female should be feminine. This topic can bring up many different opinions depending on what religion a person is, or even what environment or culture the person has known their whole life. No matter what culture, religion, environment, or background it is important to remember that everyone is human and should be treated with the same respect as the other no matter their race, gander, or lifestyle.  

In today’s society it is not uncommon for gender discrimination to occur as early as infancy. This is seen usually through the media as they portray young girls dancing and dressing up or young boys playing outside in the dirt and staining their clothes. There are many organizations today that work to promote gender equality in the media. It is important for people to know that allowing children to do “girly” or “boyish” activities will not make their child gay, lesbian, transgender, or bisexual. These terms have to do with genes and just buying an easy bake oven for a little boy or a batman action figure for a little girl isn’t going to change who they are. The fear that is often seen in parents, students, and even teachers can be immensely reduced with the education of what it really means to be identified as gay, lesbian, transgender, or bisexual. As the people become informed the fear they have of these lifestyles vanish.

The importance of diversity in schools is enormous. It is essential to teach the youth about diversity at an early age to prevent harassment and discrimination from becoming rampant in schools. The education of this term allows for better understanding of other cultures and lifestyles that may not be familiar. In many schools curriculums include history classes and language courses to teach students that there are other ways of living. Students need this basic appreciation of other cultures to be able to grow as individuals and accept others for who they are. Without this people will not know how to interact and work with people from different cultures. Many Universities and Colleges now have core classes that must be completed including courses such as Anthropology or a Foreign Language. Today they often also have study abroad and research programs for students to expand their education on a certain area of work or part of the world. Discrimination can be very harmful to people at any age. Educating the youth early is a way to lower the rates of violence and bullying everywhere and make campus’s a more welcoming and supportive environment for all.

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