Panel Discussion: Gay-Straight Alliance Movement

November 19, 2007

The panel discussion: Present at the Creation: Personal Reflections on the Birth of the Gay-Straight Alliance Movement, will take place on Monday, November 19, 2007 from 6:30 – 8:30pm, at the Wheelock College Brookline Campus.

It is presented by the Stonewall Communities Lifelong Learning Institute. Attendees will interact with four former students involved in the GSA Movement and three adult supporters (a teacher, an administrator, and a parent). The program is free and open to the public. Panelists will describe how they came to participate in and catalyze this improbable and successful social justice movement and reflect on its meaning to them today. The group will discuss their involvement with the landmark legislation that supports the formation of gay-straight alliances, and the numerous ways that the Safe Schools/GSA movement has informed the lives of youth and adult organizers,

In 1987, students at Brookline High School successfully introduced an amendment to their school handbook making discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students illegal at the school; simultaneously, students at Cambridge Ridge and Latin formed “Project Ten East,” to encourage dialogue between gay and straight students. The following year, Kevin Jennings, a teacher at Concord Academy, organized the first “Gay/Straight Alliance” (GSA) in the country and students at Newton South High School established the first GSA in a public school. The Safe Schools/GSA Movement had been born, and subsequently grew to encompass 300 schools in Massachusetts and over 3,000 nationwide.

The GSA movement endeavors to make school environments safe for all students regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression. It utilizes peer discussion, educational programming, presentations, and coalition-building activities to stimulate dialogue about liberty, equality, and justice in school settings – as well as in the workplace and in the broader society. The movement’s impact on the lives of LGBT youth has proved significant, with data showing that in towns with active gay-straight alliances, suicide attempts among LGBT youth have decreased dramatically. Some GSA movement experts, like Jeff Perrotti, author of When the Drama Club is Not Enough: Lessons from the Safe Schools Movement for Gay and Lesbian Students, also credit the movement with the surprising increase in support for same-sex marriage in suburban and rural Massachusetts towns, where GSA’s put familiar faces on gay issues.

Stonewall Communities has been awarded a grant from the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities to organize autumn and spring panel discussions and an oral history course documenting the inception of the gay-straight alliance (GSA) movement in Massachusetts in the late 1980s and its rapid spread across the state and then the country. Coordinated by the Stonewall Communities Lifelong Learning Institute (LLI) and cosponsored by The History Project, this program will document the activities and strategies of adult and student leaders and produce video and printed materials for use by educators, historians and activists.

The November 19 panel discussion is only the first step in the exploration of the GSA movement. Stonewall Communities has also begun development of a hands-on, tuition-free oral history course to research and document the dynamic origins and current activities of this inclusive social justice movement. The course will be offered in the Spring semester of the LLI, which begins March 3, 2008. Course participants will create a timeline of key events in the movement and record video interviews with student leaders, parents, school administrators, and other activists across the Commonwealth. These materials will inform a panel of social scientists, historians and activists to be convened by Stonewall Communities LLI in early June on Strategic Lessons to be Learned from the GSA Movement. The final activity will be the creation of a Discussion Guide for use in Social Studies classes and community groups interested in learning from the successes of a contemporary movement for justice and equality.

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