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A description of gay /straight alliances in the public schools of Massachusetts

Janice Evelyn Doppler, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The purpose of this study was to describe the functions and structures within gay/straight alliances (GSAs) in the public schools of Massachusetts. Six questions guided this study: (a) What are the roots of GSAs? (b) What are the purposes of GSAs? (c) How are GSAs structured? (d) What are the outcomes of GSAs? (e) What are the strengths of GSAs? (f) What are the challenges faced by GSAs? Participants in this study were selected from two groups: current and former Safe Schools for Gay and Lesbian Students Program (SSGLSP) staff members at the Massachusetts Department of Education, Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network, and Governor's Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth were interviewed and advisors of GSAs active in Massachusetts at the start of the 1998/99 school year were asked to complete surveys. The purposes of the SSGLSP are to provide support and safety for lesbian and gay students. GSAs fulfill the purposes of the SSGLSP by providing opportunities for support, social interaction, and education. Study participants perceived the outcomes of GSAs to be replacing silence with visibility, replacing isolation with connection, making known the presence of lesbian and gay students in schools, providing opportunities for positive risk taking, challenging norms of silence, and contributing to a new vision for schools. Perceived strengths of the GSA model are conceptualizing GSAs as support groups, including lesbian and gay and straight students in the support group, providing institutional support, encouraging students to speak out about issues facing lesbian and gay students, and taking action at the right time. Advisors perceived the strengths of GSAs to be the personal qualities of student members, consistency of meeting times, and the ability to persevere in spite of opposition. Governor's Commission and Department of Education personnel perceived the challenges faced by GSAs to be dealing with fear, meeting the needs of lesbian and gay students along with heterosexual students, balancing competing priorities, and meeting the needs of underserved groups. Advisors named three logistical challenges facing GSAs: maintaining or increasing GSA membership, finding a convenient meeting time, and inconsistent meeting attendance.

Subject Area

Educational sociology|Secondary education

Recommended Citation

Doppler, Janice Evelyn, "A description of gay /straight alliances in the public schools of Massachusetts" (2000). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9988779.