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November 22, 2011 > Study shows benefits of gay-straight alliance groups

Study shows benefits of gay-straight alliance groups

Submitted By Cathy Renna

New research has found that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth who attend middle or high schools with Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) have better mental health as young adults, are less likely to drop out of high school, and more likely to attend college. Published in the current issue of Applied Developmental Science, this is the first study to show that GSA participation is related to long-term benefits. The study, High School Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) and Young Adult Well-Being, is based on data from the Family Acceptance Project's survey of LGBT young adults, which examined the school-related experiences of 245 LGBT young adults, ages 21 to 25.

Prior research has shown that LGBT youth are at risk for school victimization based on their sexual orientation and gender expression; that LGB youth and young adults report higher levels of depression and other mental health problems than heterosexual peers in a range of studies; and that LGBT school bullying is related to compromised academic achievement. However, until now, there have been few indicators to show whether positive school-based supports can help prevent these negative outcomes in young adulthood. In this new study, the positive impact of GSAs was particularly strong when students viewed their Gay-Straight Alliances as effective in promoting a safer school environment.

The study also shows that the benefits of Gay-Straight Alliances diminish as levels of LGBT school victimization increase; that is, the protective nature of GSAs is not enough to overcome the negative impact of LGBT victimization on young adult mental health. Thus, the authors document that Gay-Straight Alliances cannot be proposed as the sole solution for creating safer school climates for LGBT youth. Instead, schools need to implement other efforts to reduce anti-LGBT bias in schools in combination with the formation of Gay-Straight Alliances, such as enumerated anti-harassment and nondiscrimination policies, teacher training on how to intervene in school harassment related to sexual orientation and gender expression, and an LGBT-inclusive curriculum.

These findings are of particular importance in light of recent tragic incidents of school violence - such as the murder of Larry King in 2008 and the multiple suicides of young men perceived to be gay in 2010 and 2011 who experienced high levels of LGBT school victimization. Further, several schools and districts continue to attempt to ban the formation of Gay-Straight Alliances (e.g., school board of Nassau County in 2009; Okeechobee High School in 2008 [both in Florida]; Flour Buff High School in Corpus Christi, TX, in 2011), even though GSAs are protected by the 1984 Federal Equal Access Act. In addition, the Anoka-Hennepin School District has a policy that requires staff to "remain neutral in matters related to sexual orientation including but not limited to student led discussion" that belies the purpose of GSAs which is to provide a supportive school-related environment where students can learn about and openly discuss and educate the school community on LGBT issues.


Citation: Toomey, R. B., Ryan, C., Diaz, R. M., & Russell, S. T. (2011). High school gay-straight alliances (GSAs) and young adult well-being: An examination of GSA presence, participation, and perceived effectiveness. Applied Developmental Science, 15(4), 1-11.

The Family Acceptance Project is a research, intervention, education and policy initiative. For more information, please visit: familyproject.sfsu.edu.

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