Student praised after gay-straight club campaign

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a white background.

An education campaign group has congratulated a student who has successfully pushed for a gay-straight alliance (GSA) club to be allowed in her North Carolina School.

Daniella Smiley was met with opposition from the school system when she initially circulated the idea, with groups afraid of the promotion of homosexuality, but now Currituck County High School, has approved the club.

Her efforts were praised by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, (GLSEN.) The group’s founder and Executive Director Kevin Jennings, a North Carolina native who as a teacher helped form the first GSA in 1988 said she is an inspiration, “For Smiley to overcome the culture of misinformation and lack of understanding that far too often dominates these debates is an inspiration to all of us who value respect and the idea that all students have a right to a safe learning environment.”

While Ms Smiley will now be able to start the club, GLSEN said it is extremely discouraged by Superintendent C. Michael Warren’s efforts to diminish the influence and benefits of the GSA.

In his decision to allow the GSA, Warren established new rules for all non-curricular clubs that require parental permission, will not allow yearbooks to recognise the clubs, will not allow the clubs to use “Currituck County High School” in identifying themselves and will not allow students to use the schools public address system, among other policy changes.

“The underlying positive is that the GSA will be able to meet on campus and work toward improving tolerance and respect on campus,” Mr Jennings said. “That said, the superintendent obviously knows judicial precedent shows that he would have lost a costly lawsuit if he would have banned the club. Instead, he has chosen to make life as difficult as possible for students involved in the GSA, at the expense of every other co-curricular club on campus. What a shame.”

GSAs provide a safe space for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students and their straight allies to promote respect and tolerance and address anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in schools.

Having a GSA reduces absenteeism and helps students feel safer in schools, perform better and have a greater sense of belonging at their school. According to GLSEN’s 2005 National School Climate Survey, which documented the experiences of LGBT students in school:

LGBT students whose school had a GSA were less likely to miss school because they felt unsafe compared to other students. About a third of students whose school has no GSA missed at least one day of school in the past month (32.0%) compared to a quarter of students whose school had a GSA (25.5%).

LGBT students whose school had a GSA reported higher levels of school belonging than students whose school did not (2.78 vs. 2.67 on a scale of 1 to 4 with 4 being strongest sense of belonging).

More than 3,000 GSAs have registered with GLSEN, including more than 50 in North Carolina.