Starting a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) is something I have wanted to do for over a year now. It all started when I was watching the MTV Fight For Your Rights: Take a Stand Against Hate Crimes Campaign and heard about GLSEN. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a GSA until that point. When I realized that there were a actual clubs already established in over a thousand schools, I new I wanted to be part of it. If I could reach just one more person and help them realize how important acceptance is I knew it would be worth it.
I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I also believed that if I did everything right and played by the school’s rules they couldn’t stop me. I did everything I thought would be more than enough to convince the administration at my school that I was a responsible person and that this club was something our school needed. I realized I was living in a small community and that certain people, probably a good portion of the student body, wouldn’t agree with what I was doing, but I also realized that what I was doing would help so many of the students in my school feel safer and more accepted. To me any hassle anyone could give me for starting this club could never outweigh how much I knew it would help some students.
In January 2002, I began taking the steps to starting a club in my school. First, I looked up the requirements for starting a new club at my school and the directions of how to start a GSA that are on the GLSEN website. Next, I did my homework. I looked up all my rights, including the Equal Access Act, which I read from beginning to end high-lighting the portions I deemed most important to my situation. Then I contacted my county’s superintendent, via letter, and informed him that I wished to start a GSA in my school and that according to the equal access act I had every right to do so, and asked him if he would have any objections. While waiting for a response I went about the task of finding fellow officers for my club and filled every office right down to historian. I soon received a reply from the superintendent informing me that there would be no objections to me forming a GSA. At that point, I decided it was time to find a sponsor teacher for the GSA, I wasn’t sure who I would ask, considering that I lived in such a small community, but I figured as long as I explained how organized and prepared I was it couldn’t be too hard. Besides, I was determined. If you really want something nothing can stand in your way, right?
Finding the first sponsor wasn’t that difficult. In fact, I thought it was a little too easy. I mentioned to all my officers that it was time to start propositioning teachers, and within the week our Vice-president told me about an English teacher she thought might do it. I immediately talked to the teacher about sponsoring and she agreed. I was right, I thought, that with a little hard work, planning, and determination you can get what you want. I wrote up a letter outlining the request to form our club and some basic by-laws and made a copy for our principal, two assistant principals, and activity director. I then had all my officers sign it and went to our sponsor to acquire her signature. To my surprise she declined, saying she wouldn’t be able to handle the club.
It was now March of 2002, and we didn’t have much time if we wanted to have our first meeting before the end of the school year. My band of helpers and I were once again on the hunt for a sponsor. It took a bit longer than the first time but we were once again delighted when good news came in the form of another of my friend’s teachers. He read the copy of our letter, agreed to it and signed it, and I submitted the letter to the administration. After a more than suitable amount of time had passed and I had no reply from them, I confronted my principal. He said that he hadn’t finished discussing it with the other administration members but that he was giving it considerable thought. He also said that if the club was approved it would not be able to begin meeting until next fall as it was now April and our school year ends in May. I thought this was a reasonable reply and accepted it.
Upon returning to school the following fall I immediately began inquisitions as to whether or not the club had been approved. The principal informed me it had but that I would need to give him some more specific by-laws before the club could meet. I immediately along with the help of my Vice-president typed some up and submitted them. I then went about talking to our sponsor about setting up our first meeting time. Much to my discontent when our sponsor received my inquiry he informed me that he would not be able to take on the club any longer due to family problems.
I then continued my search for a sponsor and more than a few people heard of my endeavor and became interested in it, including the school paper for which I was on staff. One day in late August the editor approached me and requested that I write a column about my troubles and why I wanted to start the club. I agreed. Then the article got me no negative feedback from students and did get the sympathy of a teacher who now said she would like to sponsor us but was somewhat apprehensive about since she didn’t have a long-term contract with the school yet.
But determined as I was I knew I could make this work. The teacher finally agreed that if another teacher would co-sponsor the club she would do it. That’s when I remembered a teacher who had said he would like to sponsor us, but he didn’t have time for after-school meetings because he was a coach. So, I told both about the others conditions and they agreed. Once again, I carried in the request letter, and once again to my dismay the coach informed that something had come up, and of course since he wouldn’t do it, the other teacher explained that she just couldn’t, at least not until next year when she had a real contract with the school (she feared for her job security).
By now, I was feeling suspicious. How many things could suddenly come up, and why were all the teachers backing out only after the principal had spoken with them about sponsoring the GSA? Now up until this point I had found it of the up-most importance as well as to my advantage to treat the principal with as much respect as possible and continue the formation of the club with as little disturbance as possible, but enough was enough. What was really going on? I felt I had to confront my principal about my concerns. It wasn’t as if I went storming into his office yelling, “What do you think you’re doing?” On the contrary, I spoke with him the hallway and requested that we soon discuss the clubWhen we met, I politely greeted him and then, much to both of our surprises, I rather bluntly blurted out, “I find it rather coincidental that every time one of my sponsors speaks with you something comes up.” Half in shock, he replied, “What are you implying? What is so strange about that?” From that a conversation developed concerning how many sponsors the GSA had gone through. It was not at all heated; in fact he explained to me that he was merely making sure the teachers knew what they were taking on when agreeing to sponsor a club. He also said that he wanted to see the club succeed. I felt satisfied with this response; I felt I had an ally I didn’t know about.
Regardless of how tired I had become, my exhaustion was nothing compared to my fellow officers. They had officially given up, they blatantly told me, “Christine, we admire your commitment and determination, but we don’t have it. Good luck, and if you do ever get it started we will be glad to help, but until then we are out.” Needless to say, I was devastated. How could they just give up? This is important. No matter how hard it had become, I still had a cause, and I wasn’t ready to give up on this GSA. It was now December and with finals and break quickly approaching, I had to break focus.
As soon as we were back in school, I was back on the hunt. Again I found a teacher who would sponsor the club; ‘This is the one,’ I thought. She was teacher who had challenged the school on previous issues, and had also sponsored the African-American step club. This time I wasn’t taking any chances and decided to make posters and have a small organizational meeting without the principal’s knowledge. Once the posters were made I went to the sponsor, who then told me she would ask the janitor’s permission to hang them if I got approval from the principal. Once again I met with the principal, who once again treated me with kindness and civility. This time I knew it, those posters were going nowhere, and for now neither was the club. He then spoke with my sponsor who talked to me the next day and explained that the principal had convinced her that the school would not be a safe environment for a club of that nature.
Although I have faced many set-backs, I refuse to give up. Until I graduate my school will have to deal with me. And if I ever succeed, even if it is my last week of school it will all have been worth it. Even if there never is a club at my school, at least I know I stood up for what I believe in.