Today I’m writing a post a bit off the beaten path for this site. However, it is a topic weighing heavily on my heart. In Alberta, Gay-Straight Alliances in schools are a BIG topic of conversation. They’ve had a steady burn in the news cycle for a while but this week the discussions have reached a fever pitch.
are a Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs)?
Wikipedia says ” A gay-straight alliance (GSA) is a student-led or community-based organization, found in middle schools and high schools as well as colleges and universities, primarily in the United States and Canada, that is intended to provide a safe and supportive environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) children, teenagers, and youth as well as their cisgender heterosexual allies.” (I had to edit it a bit as it seems someone had added a bit of not so true info into that definition).
are Gay-Straight Alliances important?
Being a kid is HARD. Childhood was full of self doubt, questions and angst for me and I wasn’t gay. Kids figure out that they are gay/trans/curious/bi at different stages in their life. Add those two things together and it can be a quagmire of emotion and anxiety. GSAs are meant to be a safe space where kids can support kids. That’s it. Kids supporting kids who may be afraid to open up to their parents for whatever reason at that point in time.
Some stats about issues LGBTQ kids face:
- A 2011 study found that two-thirds of LGBT students reported feeling unsafe at school.
- Up to 1.6 million young people experience homelessness in the United States every year. Forty percent of them identify as LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender), according to a 2012 study conducted by the Williams Institute at UCLA Law. (Source)
- 33% of LGB youth have attempted suicide in comparison to 7% of youth in general (Saewyc 2007). (Source and many more stats)
- LGBTQ youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers (Massachusetts Department of Education, 2009).
(Source and many more stats)
So why do I feel compelled to talk about Gay-Straight Alliances when I’m not LGBTQ?
Many of the arguments I’ve seen against GSAs are centered around the assertion that parents need to know if their kids join a GSA. The thought is that kids should not be allowed to join an “alternative lifestyle group” (not my words btw) without their parents being alerted. Currently, in Alberta, schools cannot tell parents if their child decides to be a part of a GSA but some political parties are wanting to take this protection away by allowing schools to tell parents if their child joined a GSA.
As a parent, I get it. At least part of it. I look at Evan and I want to know everything about him. I want to know what he likes and hates and feels and what makes him scared and what makes him happy. I want to wrap him up in tissue paper and keep the world from ever putting a scratch on my beautiful boy.
I also know, though, that not all parents feel that way. You see, I grew up in a home with an abusive step-father. One who would rather punch me or abuse me than look at me. My life in a house with him was miserable, violent and abusive…and I wasn’t dealing with figuring out my sexuality. I wasn’t worried about coming out in a small, Bible-belt town.
Some people say “well, if they have abusive parents, they should just say something! Stand up for themselves! The police are there for that and our kids have great parents so we should get to know!”
Do you know how hard it is to walk into a school and tell them you’ve been beaten? To show them the bruises and ask for them to call the police so you can be taken away? To live with the shame and the worry of where “away” might even be? To know that you are leaving your family behind?
I do. It is not easy. This is not the “escape hatch” we should give to marginalized kids. It’s just not. I ended up in an amazing foster home but so many do not.
Oh, and if you are the perfect parent you proclaim yourself to be…why are you worried? Won’t your kids be running to tell you?
If you are worried that they won’t or that they will make decisions that you won’t agree with, I challenge you to sit quietly with those thoughts for a bit. Because if your child is gay, they are gay. It won’t matter whether there is a GSA or not, whether the school tells you or not, whether you agree with being gay or not.
To me, it all comes down to this: what is more important? To force your kid to tell you something on your schedule or for them to get the support they need to talk to you when they can? And maybe, just maybe, giving them (and kids without super great parents like you) a chance to figure some things out first, it might lower those rates of LGBTQ homelessness and suicide.
My desire to protect my son is HUGE but I am willing to give a bit of that away to keep him and others safe. Not safe from being gay…that is not a thing…but safe from being forced to put words and
As someone who has felt the white-hot danger of a house that is unsafe, I beg of you to see outside of your loving house and consider that maybe there are bigger dangers out there than the possibility that you child is in a GSA and you don’t know.
Just consider it.