Proven Benefits of GSAs to Individual Students
LGBTQ students involved in GSAs reported that the GSA helped them with 3 types of empowerment. The first is empowerment through knowledge – they knew their rights, and how to advocate for them. The second is personal empowerment – GSAs help students improve their self esteem and develop a sense of agency, which is the realization that you have the power to act to change situations. The third is relational empowerment; they had a sense of belonging to a community and of improving the school for future students (Calzo et al., 2018).
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Empowerment Through Knowledge
Students in a school with a GSA are more able to find and identify adult allies in the school and the community (Sinclair & Reece, 2016).
GSAs help adolescents develop the knowledge and agency to counter the heteronormative culture (Sutherland, 2019).
GSAs are gateways to accessing community resources, including organizations outside of school and supportive adults (Porta et al., 2017).
A study of LGBTQ college students found that a campus group for sexual minorities was the single largest protective factor in the students’ lives. It had the greatest predictive effect on sexual minority identity development, reduced concerns about acceptance, positive identity affirmation, and reduced internalized homonegativity (Brandon-Friedman & Kim, 2016)
School-based LGBTQ+ support organizations can help students develop self reflection, bravery, leadership, agency, and civic engagement (Porta et al., 2017; Calzo et al., 2018)
Students in schools with GSAs indicate the presence of a safer school climate and more supportive teachers/staff. They earn better grades, are less isolated, are less likely to skip school due to fear, feel a greater sense of well-being, and have higher self-esteem (Swanson & Gettinger, 2016; Hannah, 2017; Porta et al., 2017; Calzo et al., 2018).
GSA membership promotes self-confidence (Sutherland, 2019).
LGBTQ+ youth in schools with a GSA experience fewer mental health and substance abuse issues and take part in fewer risky behaviors. They are less likely to smoke, drink alcoholic beverages, experience suicidal thoughts or actions, engage in casual sex, and suffer from depression (Poteat et al., 2016; Sinclair & Reece, 2016; Porta et al., 2017).
Students in a GSA had lower likelihood of risky sexual behavior (Poteat et al., 2016).
LGBTQ+ youth in a school with a GSA are more likely to attend college (Porta et al., 2017; Calzo et al., 2018).
GSAs represent safety, and the more years a GSA is present in a school, the more the perception of safety among the student body increases (Ioverno et al., 2016).
LGBTQ+ youth in schools with a GSA experience less bullying and harassment (Swanson & Gettinger, 2016; Porta et al., 2017).
Members of a GSA report feeling unified, perceiving the GSA to be a place of community and connection (Porta et al., 2017; Sutherland, 2019).
LGBTQ+ students in a school with a GSA feel more connected to the school overall, with a greater sense of belonging and engagement (Swanson & Gettinger, 2016; Hannah, 2017).
LGBTQ+ youth attending schools with a GSA perceive their schools to be safer and more supportive than LGBTQ+ youth attending schools without a GSA. They are also more likely to report that their school is safe, tolerant, and respectful (Swanson & Gettinger, 2016).
GSAs serve a valuable role just by existing.
The presence of a GSA on a school campus shows LGBTQ+ students, even those who never join, that they are not alone in the school. It challenges “assumptions of heterosexuality” and other hetero-normative and cis-normative elements of the institution (Cerezo & Bergfeld, 2013, p. 361).
Proven Benefits of GSAs to the School as a Whole
More Inclusive School Environment
Student bodies in schools with GSAs show a greater tolerance of all differences (racial, religious, etc). GSAs help create a more inclusive school environment for the entire school (Mayo, 2013; Ioverno et al., 2016).
GSAs offer students a safe environment to voice their concerns. This allows students to connect with, and gain support from, teachers and administrators (Sutherland, 2019).
GSAs, as part of their advocacy focus, help to educate students, teachers, and staff on LGBTQ-related issues. This education builds support and helps create allies (Sutherland, 2019).
Less Bullying Overall
Students who attend a school with a GSA are more likely to consider anti-LGBTQ harassment and bullying as unacceptable (Murphy, 2012)
The presence of a GSA in a school lowers the number of homophobic bullying instances regardless of GSA membership (Ioverno et al., 2016).
In fact, having a GSA in a school lowers all forms of school bullying (Ioverno et al., 2016).
GSAs help students learn to feel empowered in the face of injustice (Sinclair & Reece, 2016).
Students whose high school had a GSA were significantly more likely to be supportive of the LGBTQ community when they were in college (Sinclair & Reece, 2016).
Better Outcomes for Many Students
The entire school benefits when LGBTQ students are present, doing well academically, and suffering less depression and other mental health benefits, as schools environments reflect the overall well-being of all students.
Schools with GSAs are safer for the entire student body, not just LGBTQ+ students (Sutherland, 2019).
GSAs serve as a springboard for student civic engagement (Sutherland, 2019).
A supportive LGBTQ environment in a schools leads to improved educational outcomes for the student body as a whole (Porta et al., 2017).
Brandon-Friedman, R. A., & Kim, H. (2016). Using social support levels to predict sexual identity development among college students who identify as a sexual minority. Journal of Gay & Lesbian Social Services, 28(4):292-316. doi:10.1080/10538720.2016.1221784
Calzo, J. P., Yoshikawa, H., Poteat, V. P., Russell, S. T., & Bogart, L. M. (2018). Person-environment fit and positive youth development in the context of high school gay-straight alliance. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 30(S1):158-176. doi:10.1111/jora.12456
Cerezo, A., & Bergfeld, J. (2013). Meaningful LGBTQ inclusion in schools: The importance of diversity representation and counterspaces. Journal of LGBT Issues in Counseling, 7(4):355-371. doi:10.1080/15538605.2013.839341
Hannah, J. L. (2017). One student at a time: A reflection of support for a first-year GSA club and its impact on perceived acceptance for LGBTQ students. The Clearing House, 90(3):98-102. doi:10.1080/00098655.2017.1301154
Ioverno, S., Baiocco, R., Belser, A. B., Grossman, A. H., & Russell, S. T. (2016). The protective role of gay-straight alliances for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and questioning students: A prospective analysis. Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, 3(4):397-406. doi:10.1037/sgd0000193
Mayo, J. B. (2013). Critical pedagogy enacted in the gay-straight alliance: New possibilities for a third space in teacher development. Educational Researcher, 42(5):266-275. https://www.jstor.org/stable/23462392
Murphy, H. E. (2012). Improving the lives of students, gay and straight alike: Gay-straight alliances and the role of school psychologists. Psychology in the Schools, 49(9):883-891. doi:10.1002/pits.21643
Porta, C. M., Singer, E., Mehus, C. J., Gower, A. L., Saewyc, E., Fredkove, W., & Eisenberg, M. E. (2017). LGBTQ youth’s views on gay-straight alliances: Building community, providing gateways, and representing safety and support. Journal of School Health, 87(7):489-497. doi:10.1111/josh.12517
Poteat, V. P., Calzo, J. P., & Yoshikawa, H. (2016, January 18). Promoting youth agency through dimensions of gay-straight alliance involvement and conditions that maximize associations. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 45:1438-1451. doi:10.1007/s10964-016-0421-6
Sinclair J., & Reece, B. J. (2016). Gay-straight alliances in the battle for rights: A tipping point for progress over prohibition. Interchange, 47:109-120. doi:10.1007/s10780-015-9257-3
Sutherland, D. K. (2019). The push for transgender inclusion: Exploring boundary spanning in the gay-straight alliance. Sociology Compass, 13:e12739. doi:10.1111/soc4.12739
Swanson, K., & Gettinger, M. (2016). Teachers’ knowledge, attitudes, and supportive behaviors toward LGBT students: Relationship to gay-straight alliances, antibullying policy, and teacher training. Journal of LGBT Youth, 13(4):326-351. doi:10.1080/19361653.2016.1185765