By Dominique Parris and Brandon Stratford, Child Trends, November 5, 2019
In 45 states and the District of Columbia, less than half of all high schools report having a gay-straight alliance (also known as a genders and sexualities alliance, or GSA), according to 2016 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Among the 48 states (as well as the District of Columbia) that provide data, only three states (New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts) can claim that more than half of their high schools have a GSA. Massachusetts has the highest percentage of high schools (60.5%) with a GSA, while South Dakota has the lowest (9.3%). Less than 16 percent of high schools in four states (including South Dakota) have a GSA. In 25 states, 17.9 percent to roughly one-third of high schools have a GSA; in an additional 16 states and the District of Columbia, GSAs can be found in roughly one-third to 46.9 percent of secondary schools.
GSAs are school clubs led by students, with support from faculty sponsors, in which students can talk, learn about, and educate others on sexual orientation, gender identity, and some of the issues that surround them. There are currently at least 4,000 GSAs across the country. Organizations such as GSA Network and GLSEN have programs to register GSAs and offer resources for students and faculty advisors.
In a recent review of LGBT-focused school policies and practices, researchers noted that, of all reviewed interventions, GSAs are supported by the most consistent evidence showing that they improve school climate and academic outcomes for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer/questioning (LGBTQ) youth. Specifically, the researchers identified several studies that documented reduced homophobic victimization of lesbian, gay, and bisexual students in schools with GSAs. LGBTQ youth who participate in GSAs report that the clubs are a source of community, a gateway to LGBTQ-friendly resources, and a marker of safety.