Home  |   Subscribe  |   Resources  |   Reprints  |   Writers' Guidelines


New Research Shows Positive Impact of Gender and Sexuality Alliances in Schools

GSAs Critical in Improving School Climate for LGBTQ+ Students

GLSEN, a national organization working to guarantee LGBTQ+ students safe and affirming education, has released a new research report detailing the experiences of students and staff advisors with gender and sexuality alliances (GSAs) in schools across the nation. GLSEN’s prior research has shown that the availability and presence of GSAs in school improves individual well-being for LGBTQ+ youth. The new report, which builds upon more than 20 years of GLSEN research, finds that involvement in GSAs also improves individual well-being for LGBTQ+ youth.  

GSAs, originally known as gay-straight alliances, first emerged more than 30 years ago in the United States and have doubled in availability in schools over the past two decades. These school clubs focus on providing LGBTQ+ students a safe and affirming space within a school environment.  

“LGBTQ+ rights have come a long way, but even today, LGBTQ+ youth are facing threats on all sides, from a devastating wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislative attacks to cruel rhetoric in pop culture. At this moment, the presence and availability of GSAs in our nation’s schools are critical to help alleviate the negative effects of what can otherwise be a hostile school climate,” says GLSEN Interim Executive Director Melanie Willingham-Jaggers. “We know that participation in GSAs is related to stronger school connectedness for LGBTQ+ youth, and regardless of whether LGBTQ+ students themselves participate in their school’s GSA, just having a GSA in their school can create a more positive school climate for LGBTQ+ students.” 

“GSAs are opportunities to support LGBTQ+ youth as we build an uplifting environment and create visibility through education and activism,” says Elliot Morehead, GLSEN National Student Council member and GSA leader in S.D. “Whether it’s through learning new things, playing games, or leaning on each other for support, I love the fact that GSAs bring people together to grow, have fun, and impact the lives of my fellow classmates.” 

Key findings from the new report include the following:

  • Involvement in GSAs help improve student well-being. LGBTQ+ students participating in GSAs are more likely to report greater feelings of school belonging, slightly higher levels of self-esteem, and slightly lower levels of depression.
  • The most marginalized students are just as likely or more likely to participate in GSAs. Transgender and nonbinary students are more likely to participate than cisgender students, and LGBTQ+ students of color are just as likely to participate as white LGBTQ+ students. Transgender and nonbinary students are also more likely to be a leader or officer of their GSA than cisgender students, and LGBTQ+ students of color are also just as likely to be a leader or officer of their GSA as white LGBTQ+ students.
  • GSA advisors need more resources. The majority of GSA advisors reported receiving little or no professional education on LGBTQ+ issues, and reported that most of their preparation came from conducting their own research or outreach to independent LGBTQ+ organizations.
  • GSAs need more administrator support. The majority of GSA students who faced pushback about their GSA from other students, parents, educators, or other school staff did not see a resolution to these challenges.  

“Our research shows that GSAs are incredibly beneficial to the well-being of LGBTQ+ students, but they also face many challenges ranging from lack of funding to pushback from parents,” says GLSEN Director of Research Joseph Kosciw, PhD. “There are various ways that schools and organizations can take a strong, yet supportive stance in the face of pushback and bolster support for GSAs. For instance, school districts and administrators can provide educators more professional development opportunities to be better equipped to work with LGBTQ+ students in the classroom and in the GSA. Additionally, organizations can provide GSAs support with resources about engaging in advocacy and event planning.” 

“Many teachers may be afraid that they don't know enough or aren't trained to work with LGBTQ+ youth,” says Sarah Milianta-Laffin, GSA advisor and educator in Hawaii. “In building inclusive and affirming learning spaces, LGBTQ+ students don't need a ‘perfect’ teacher; they just need a teacher who cares.” 

GLSEN provides resources on how to support GSAs and how to start your own GSA at your school, and will be hosting an upcoming webinar related to findings of this new research report on Tuesday, December 7, 2021.

Source: GLSEN