GAY-STRAIGHT STUDENT ALLIANCE: NOT JUST OUT AND OPEN, BUT MAINSTREAMBy Greater Long Beach
DOWNEY (Via TheDowneyPatriot.com)—It is 2:30 on a Thursday afternoon at and Room S3 at Downey High School is buzzing. The school day has already ended, but students keep filing into Mr. Zakour’s classroom, chit-chatting with friends and plopping down into desks.
A slight, 17-year-old named Samantha Delgado walks to the front of the class and attempts to get everyone’s attention. It takes a few tries, but the 30 or so teenagers eventually quiet down so the Gay-Straight Alliance meeting can begin.
The Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) Network is a youth leadership organization that connects school-based GSAs. Originally founded in 1998 in the San Francisco Bay area, the Network’s goal is to empower youth activists to start GSA clubs to fight homophobia and transphobia in their schools.
The GSAs at Downey High School (DHS) and Warren High School (WHS) in Downey are less than a year old and among more than 800 GSA clubs in the state. It’s estimated that more than 53 percent of the public high schools in California have a GSA. At a time when lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) students report suicidal thoughts and feelings of depression twice as often as so-called “straight” kids, many high schools welcome their GSAs. The GSA at Downey High has many allies among student who don’t identify as LGBT, but want to help stop harassment and intolerance.
As president of the Alliance, it’s Delgado’s job to lead each meeting. At this particular session, members are having a lengthy discussion on bisexuality. While many express their opinion that bisexuality is for those who are “confused” or not “brave enough” to come out as gay or lesbian, Delgado remains even keeled—despite later sharing that she identifies as bisexual and has had a same-sex partner for two years.
The conversations are lively, opinions are shared openy and topics vary—at one point, stopping for awhile on the life of Chaz (formerly “Chastity”) Bono, who was born as the daughter of Sonny & Cher. For years Bono identified as a lesbian woman, but more recently went through so-called “top” surgery and hormonal treatment. Bono now identifies as a heterosexual male. The GSA members discuss which gender pronoun is appropriate to use, though many can’t get past their confusion regarding Bono’s sexual orientation.
GSAs provide an environment to safely have conversations like this, which is why the clubs can be crucial to closeted high school students who are afraid of revealing their sexual orientation. Until recently, frank discussions about sex and sexuality were almost unheard of on high school campuses. Without fully realizing it, students such as those in the GSA at Downey High are normalizing once-taboo subjects and shedding light on the complexity of human sexuality, making their peers feel welcomed and accepted in the process.
One GSA member shares that despite identifying as lesbian, she has a boyfriend and can’t really explain her attraction to him. “It’s not about gender,” she says, “It’s about how you feel about a person.” The students all nod their head in agreement as Delgado explains that it’s not necessary to label your sexuality.
“If you want to just be a soul in the world, be a soul in the world,” Delgado says. “If you just want to identify as awesome, identify as awesome.”