By Jamie Li, 19, ContributorOriginally Published: June 20, 2008Revised: November 29, 2017
The Gay–Straight Alliance (GSA) at my high school in Maryland Heights, MO, was started in 2003 when I was a freshman. This was a club of gay and straight students, working to end homophobia and provide a safe place for students to talk about sexual orientation issues.
I was really surprised that we had a GSA, considering how socially conservative my town is. I was also really glad to know that there was something as progressive as the GSA at our school. Students need a place to go where they won’t be judged because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, so I got involved with the GSA and took on a leadership role.
I joined the GSA because of my own experiences being targeted and made fun of for something I couldn’t help. In elementary school, I was the only Chinese kid in class. I got made fun of a lot, and it made me ashamed of being Chinese. Going through this allowed me to empathize with the experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) students. Many students are teased so much that they become ashamed of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and they shouldn’t be. Through the GSA, I wanted to make the experiences of LGBTQ students in high school less traumatic.
I joined the GSA because of my own experiences being targeted and made fun of for something I couldn’t help.
A GSA can serve as a nonjudgmental space where any student who feels targeted for any reason can come and feel safe. At certain schools, homophobia is so rampant that it makes coming to terms with a queer identity more of a burden than it needs to be. LGBTQ student can come to a GSA meeting and know that they are not alone. It’s also a place where allies can show their support for their LGBTQ peers.
Taking Action for LGBTQ Rights
When I joined the GSA, it wasn’t a school-sponsored group. We didn’t have access to school funding. We couldn’t have our announcements read over the loudspeaker and our events could not be publicized on the TVs throughout the school. After I had two meetings with the principal and got the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) involved, we did eventually get the full support of the school.
I ended up making a video about my experience advocating for a school-sponsored GSA. Check it out here:
I entered the video in the National Coalition Against Censorship’s 2007 Youth Film Contest. The question for the contest was “How does censorship affect me?” I was the second place finalist. Besides the incentive of winning a scholarship, I wanted to make the documentary so that people would know about what happened at my high school. I hope this video inspires you to get involved. You don’t have to stand for homophobia in your school. Get informed, get organized and take action.
Jamie Li is a 19-year-old currently studying at New York University.
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