Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) help make schools safer for all students and likely play an integral role in mitigating the negative impact of bullying and harassment on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students, according to a research brief released today by GLSEN, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network.

As of today, 3,612 GSAs are registered with GLSEN from every state, Puerto Rico and Washington D.C.

GSAs are student clubs that seek to improve school climate by addressing and reducing anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in school.

GLSEN’s research brief is an examination of their research and other studies on GSAs in middle and high schools.

“This research brief provides proof of the enormous positive impact Gay-Straight Alliances have on school climate,” said Dr. Eliza Byard, GLSEN interim executive director.

“First and foremost, all students are bullied and harassed less often based on actual or perceived sexual orientation when a school has a GSA.

“LGBT students also demonstrate a greater sense of safety and belonging in school and skip school less often.”

The brief has four major findings:

The presence of GSAs may help to make schools safer for LGBT students by sending a message that biased language and harassment will not be tolerated.

Having a GSA may also make schools more accessible to LGBT students by contributing to a more positive school environment.

GSAs may help LGBT students to identify supportive school staff, which has been shown to have a positive impact on their academic achievements and experiences in school.

Most students lack access to GSAs or other student clubs that provide support and address issues specific to LGBT students and their allies.

Students in schools with GSAs are less likely to hear homophobic remarks such as “faggot” or “dyke” in school on a daily basis than students without a GSA (57 percent compared to 75 percent).

LGBT students in schools with GSAs are less likely to miss school because they feel unsafe compared to other students: a quarter (26 percent) of students in schools with GSAs missed school in the past month because they felt unsafe compared to a third (32 percent) of students at schools without GSAs.

Students in schools with a GSA are more likely to report that school faculty, staff and administrators are supportive of lesbian, gay and bisexual students (52 percent compared to 32 percent).

Straight high school student and GLSEN founder Kevin Jennings created the first GSA in 1988 at Concord Academy in Massachusetts, where Jennings was a history teacher.

The number of GSAs registered with GLSEN grew to 1,000 by the end of 2001 and could reach 4,000 this school year.

“By establishing and joining GSAs, our youth are showing a desire to make their schools safer,” Byard said.

“Educators and policy makers need to match that commitment by providing additional educational interventions that assist and support GSAs.

“Through comprehensive safe schools policies that specifically address sexual orientation and teacher trainings on anti-LGBT bullying and harassment, schools can show an even greater dedication to making sure that every child has a safe environment in which to learn.”

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