Written by a F.A.B.U Contributor
In 2004, author Brent Hartinger released a book titled The Geography Club about a group of queer high school students who form an after-school club to discuss what they're all going through. So naturally, they decided to call it The Geography Club, a club so dull, it wouldn't draw any unnecessary attention to itself. And besides, who wants to join a Geography Club, anyway?
Even though attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community have changed over the past 17 years, it still teaches how relevant safe spaces are for LGBTQ+ youth. It brings together other LGBTQ+ students who can lean on each other to share their experiences.
High school is a time of self-discovery. It's a time of finding out where you fit in, who your true friends are, peer pressure, etc. It can be a pretty lonely time, especially if you're LGBTQ+ or questioning.
During this time of self-discovery, having a safe space can give youth comfort and a place to turn to with no judgement, even if meetings only run once a week. It's also necessary for those students who haven't come out yet.
In my high school, this safe space took the form of a GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) that met during lunchtime once a week. These meetings were not only meant for students who identified as LGBTQ+ but also for their straight allies. The club had five teachers who came to every meeting and made it their mission to accept every student who came through the door. It created a welcoming school community to support students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The point of the club was also to spread positivity and tolerance in the school, which my school desperately needed. It wasn't long after the club was established that it was soon dubbed "The Gay Club". The club was never the target for harassment or hazing, but it wasn't without its instances.
The club did get an eye roll whenever it was brought up during the morning announcements. "What do they do in The Gay Club?" I remember a student in my homeroom ask, to which their friend lazily retorted, "gay stuff". This was when I knew the club was written off and deemed "uncool".
The club once decorated the halls with balloons to spread kindness. But, unfortunately, those balloons were taken down by a student as soon as they were put up.
During Spirit Day - a day to wear purple to show support against bullying and bullying-related suicide – the GSA organized a potluck during lunch. Anyone could participate in the potluck as long as they wore purple. Two male students wearing purple showed up for the free food, but once they found out it was organized by "the Gay Club," they turned down the food and left. They laughed as they walked away and called the club a homophobic slur.
Those few instances of passive homophobia were why students started the GSA to begin with. Even though some students wrote off the club, it was not written off by the members that did attend every meeting. It was a place you could go to make sure you weren't in the crossfire of a slur or an eye roll just for being who you are.
In 2021, people might think there might not be a need for GSA's anymore, because tolerance is promoted everywhere, there is still a need now more than ever.
Even though Gen Z is considered more progressive than older generations by being more open to different identities, interests, and modes of self-expression, high school can still be dangerous for students who are different.
We've all heard the phrase "times may change, but high school stays the same".
Unfortunately, putting teenagers with clashing personalities in one location can still lead to an unsafe environment.
This is more relevant due to the rise in cyberbullying, where high schoolers use many social media platforms to harass their peers. Students now call out and tease their peers in video game live streams, Instagram, and TikTok videos for other classmates to see and comment on. They'll even go as far as posting humiliating videos without their consent.
In terms of Gen Z students bullying their LGBTQ+ peers, CBC reported that "in 2019, one in four students who attended high schools in the Greater Toronto Area, say they have been called hateful names or have been subjected to comments that are homophobic or transphobic."
Schools that have established safe spaces or GSA's have proven to create positive impacts on LGBTQ+ students. It allows those students to build trust and relationships with their peers. It can make a place of comfort and safety and be used to identify which supportive adults they can turn to for guidance. All this ultimately leads to a better learning environment where students have higher self-confidence levels and better grades, which benefits students in the long run.
Overall, everyone wins when there's a safe space where students can attend whenever they feel like there's nowhere else to go. In addition, GSA's provide an area of support so students know which teachers and peers to turn to if things get tough, either at school or at home. When students feel supported, it can impact their grades and their overall self-esteem.
High school can be a vulnerable time. The world might not be a kind place, but a little support and some kind faces can go a long way.
LGBTQ+ students belong.
If you’re a student or a teacher, here are some resources on GSA’s and how to start one in your school.