GSAs of the USA: A Roadtrip of Memories

In celebration of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s recent letter in support of Gay-Straight Alliances, The Advocate took a look at some of the most influential cases that have helped make GSAs what they are today. What exactly is the state of the Alliance? GLSEN reports that there are over 4,000 registered GSAs in the U.S.with at least one in every state. It wasn’t (and isn’t) easy, though. From the late 1980’s to now, GSAs have experienced more than their share of problems. Let’s look at a few.

1988 – Concord, Massachusetts

Kevin Jennings starts the first GSA at Concord Academy. Massachusetts: the Gay State.

1998 – Salt Lake City, Utah

East High’s deb school board decides to cancel all co-curricular activities to keep the gays from making their own club. They have to draw the line somewhere, no one wants 4H turning into a kinky swingers club.

1999 – Orange, California On the basis of the Equal Access Act, schools that receive federal money and allow at least one student group to meet must allow all student groups to meet. Huzzah!

2000 – Salt Lake City, Utah

Courts rule that SLC School District was “abridging the students’ First Amendment rights.” East High students now have activities to put on their college applications again.

2002-2004 – Boyd County, Kentucky After a long and ugly battle, Boyd County schools are require to recognize the GSA and provide anti-harassment training. During aforementioned fight, someone suggested taking “all the fucking faggots out in the back woods and kill them,” not realizing that they were being a) a heinous human being and b) so stereotypical that even people who agreed with them were offended.

2006 – Chicago, Illinois

Courts rule that even though charter schools are freed from some obligations, they still receive federal money and as such cannot discriminate against LGBT students.

2006-2008 – Okeechobee, Florida

After a school prevents a GSA from meeting on the basis that it broke the school’s abstinence-only policy, a conservative judge rules that that are being ridiculous (my words, not his).

2011 – Winston-Salem/Forsyth County, North Carolina While it’s easy to look back and laugh at how inane some of these conflicts have been, students in school districts all over the country still struggle to create safe spaces.

The National Center for Lesbian rights has put together a list of common legal questions and answers about GSAs. GSANetwork has tips on how to start a GSA in your school and GLSEN has a variety of resources including ways to support students in your community as well as a national registry. Keep fighting the good fight, kids.

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our A+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining A+ and supporting the people who make this indie queer media site possible?

Join A+!


Laura is a tiny girl who wishes she were a superhero. She likes talking to her grandma on the phone and making things with her hands. Strengths include an impressive knowledge of Harry Potter, the ability to apply sociology to everything under the sun, and a knack for haggling for groceries in Spanish. Weaknesses: Chick-fil-a, her triceps, girls in glasses, and the subjunctive mood. Follow the vagabond adventures of Laura and her bike on twitter [@laurrrrita].

Laura has written 308 articles for us.


  1. The things I would do for GSAs in my country. I’m really tired of having to wait until university before I can meet gay people without a giant trip into the city and a big fight with my parents. :(

  2. I was president of my high school’s GSA in Staten Island, NY in 2001/ 2002. We were the first one on the island and one of very few in NYC in general. It was pretty damn cool. Looking back on it, my members and I got remarkably little shit for it.
    10 years later I’m going to a gay lawyers conference in LA. Progress is kinda awesome.

  3. Wow, this is really cool!

    I went to high school in Wyoming (for a few years, after which I finished my junior and senior level classes by correspondence in six months because my school was a fucking joke), so GSAs feel so unreal to me. Like, when I meet someone who was in one I want to tackle them and demand they take me to their pot of gold, but then I remember that those are leprachauns. But they both seem equally fairy tale-like to me.

    In my town, the only kid people thought was gay got death threats and harrassment from students and teachers, plus people driving by his house at night and shooting at it out their truck windows. He may have just been gender nonconforming because he claimed he was straight, but frankly if I was him I would have denied my gayness too. Like, people want him dead just because they suspect him of being gay, so why confirm their suspicions and make things even worse?

    I hated every second I had to spend in that Gods forsaken state.

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!