Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Goodbye GSA

Today I attended my last meeting as sponsor of Rich East's Gay/Straight Alliance. We've had a turbulent history and remain the school and district's "unofficial" club--they let us meet and function as a club but the sponsors are unpaid. But that doesn't matter. What matters is the kids can meet and feel safe.

The GSA began in 2002 as a result of District 227's Multicultural Committee's work on helping gay students. A small committee grew out of a second summer teacher's institute which dealt with training teachers to be more sensitive to the needs of gay students. Ultimately I was selected to be sponsor with Katie Stadt as my co-sponsor.

One of the statements a gay young man at the workshop said was that in his entire education no teacher had ever spoken favorably about a gay author or artist or athelete. "Don't deny us our history," was his empassioned summation.

To learn more about creating the club and the kind of student I would be supporting, I attended a conference that July called Sexual Minority Youth in the Heartland: Issues and Methods for Youth-serving Professionals, at Indiana University, sponsored by the Indiana University Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered Student Support Services. The two-day conference covered such topics as Theories of Sexual Orientation; Safe Schools, Safe Kids, Safe Teachers; Serving Gay Teens at the Library; Cultivating Leadership Skills in GLBT Youth. Former Surgeon General Dr. Joycelyn Elders gave the key-note speech on “Leave No Child Behind: Let’s Get Serious.”

Our first meeting began with five students and six adults. The biggest issue on the kids' minds was the need for a safe school environment for all students, especially gays. The structure for the meetings was established and included: snacks, a sharing of concerns, then discussion of things the club is working on, and finally, a history lesson. Students were assured from the beginning that this was an environment where they could feel safe with any issues.

Eventually the club came up with their purpose:

  • to create a healthy, supportive environment for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, questioning and straight students and staff;
  • to increase physical and emotional safety for GLBTQS students and staff;
  • to value and affirm GLBT history and provide educational resources for the Rich East community through text, technology, and teaching;
  • to have lots of fun.

In September the students participated in the AIDS walk/run in Chicago. The safe school issue became a political football in January when the school board voted to take down rainbow stickers teachers had placed on their doors to designate "safe zones" for students. Contentous public meetings only emphasized the need for protection of gay students rights. Many of the civic minded students rallied against what they preceived as an injustice and by the end of the year we had had 30 students attend the meetings. The club won the Student Council's Outstanding Club Award--which they've done every year since.

The students elected to designate the rainbow triangle as their official club logo.

The GSA meets every Tuesday (with the exception of the two weeks before a play production). The students remain politically active and have done not only the AIDS walks but The Day of Silence also and displays at the Village Hall during June. While they have learned that often the system doesn't give them what they want, they have also learned to work to change that system.

I'm proud to have been a role model in the process. I had to fight back a lump in my throat as they left.

No comments: