Dear Colleague Letter Also Highlights Positive Benefit, Importance
WASHINGTON - In a historic Dear Colleague letter from Secretary Arne
Duncan, the U.S. Department of Education announced its support for the right
of students to form Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) and heralded the positive
benefits of GSAs on school campuses. Since 1984, the federal Equal Access Act
has guaranteed students' right to form any non-curricular club free from viewpoint
discrimination. Courts have consistently upheld the rights of students to form
GSAs, but some schools and school districts continue to attempt to discriminate
against them and block their efforts.
The letter is the first from a federal agency affirming students' right
to form GSAs. The Department of Education also released a set of legal guidelines
affirming the principles that prevent unlawful discrimination against any student-initiated
"Secretary Duncan's Dear Colleague letter is a clear signal to schools
and school districts that they may not discriminate against students who seek
to form Gay-Straight Alliances," GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said.
"We are grateful to the Department of Education for supporting students'
rights, attempting to prevent discrimination and affirming the positive contributions
Gay-Straight Alliances make to the life of our schools, right alongside other
According to GLSEN's 2009 National School Climate Survey of more than
7,000 LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) students, 44.6% of LGBT
students attend a school that has a GSA. For nearly two decades, GLSEN programs
and initiatives have supported student leaders who choose to form such clubs.
Heard fewer homophobic remarks and fewer expressions where "gay"
was used in a negative way than students in schools without GSAs;
Were more likely to report that educators intervened when hearing homophobic
remarks (19% said staff intervened most of the time or always vs. 12.3% at schools
without a GSA);
Were less likely to feel unsafe because of their sexual orientation
(54.3% vs. 66.5% at schools without a GSA);
Experienced less victimization related to their sexual orientation and
gender expression. For example, 24.2% of students with a GSA experienced high
levels of victimization based on their sexual orientation compared to 34.7%
of those without a GSA; and
Had a greater sense of connectedness to their school community.
School climate benefits significantly from the presence of the clubs. Students
at schools with GSAs:
GLSEN provides resources and support to the more than 4,000 GSAs registered
with the organization, including a manual for starting and leading GSAs, found
GLSEN also published a research brief in 2007 on the benefit of GSAs: http://bit.ly/GSAbrief.
Duncan's letter cites GLSEN's research and says that GSAs encourage
dialogue and provide supportive resources, helping to make schools safe and
affirming environments for everyone.
"The [Equal Access] Act requires public secondary schools to treat all
student-initiated groups equally, regardless of the religious, political, philosophical,
or other subject matters discussed at their meetings," the letter reads.
"Its protections apply to groups that address issues relating to LGBT
students and matters involving sexual orientation and gender identity, just
as they apply to religious and other student groups."
GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, is the leading national
education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students. Established
in 1990, GLSEN envisions a world in which every child learns to respect and
accept all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.
GLSEN seeks to develop school climates where difference is valued for the positive
contribution it makes to creating a more vibrant and diverse community. For
information on GLSEN's research, educational resources, public policy advocacy,
student organizing programs and educator training initiatives, visit www.glsen.org.