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Gay-Straight Club That Breeds . . . Success

Schools: A heterosexual freshman member in New England reports a decline in fear, a rise in mutual respect--and no change in her sexual orientation.

March 26, 2000|ALEXANDRA EARLY | Alexandra Early is a ninth-grader in Arlington, Mass

I'm 15, female and a freshman in high school. If the posters of male models, movie stars and rock singers plastered on the walls of my room are any indication, I'm definitely heterosexual. Nevertheless, when we all had to choose an after-school club to join last fall, I picked the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) at Arlington High School near Boston.

I knew that this might lead some of my classmates to think that I was a lesbian. But I joined the GSA anyway because I wanted to be with other kids who thought it was important to have a more tolerant atmosphere at our high school. Since I joined, and for the five years that the club has existed, that's exactly what it has done: promote tolerance. Which is why I'm amazed and disturbed by the controversy over a similar club at El Modena High School in Orange County.

One of the things that our GSA does not do is provide a public forum for people, either straight or gay, to talk about their private sex lives or practices. No one has the kind of discussions that many parents wouldn't approve of. Compared to what you hear on the radio every day or see on TV or at the movies, it's all pretty tame.

The atmosphere of our meetings is free of pressure. Yes, the club does give support to kids who feel they're gay but are too afraid to say anything about it yet to their parents or other relatives. But there's no preaching that you should be a lesbian because men are evil and women make better partners. I haven't gotten, nor do I expect to get, a single call from a lesbian asking me out on a date. Nor do gay guys try to seduce straight members of the group. I have no more or less interest in being gay now than I did before I joined.

Influenced by the GSA, however, our high school athletic department sponsored an evening meeting for everyone on school teams--both boys and girls, plus their parents--to discuss the problem of homophobic language and attitudes in sports. More than 500 people attended. Among the speakers was a varsity football captain from another school who is gay and the mother of a boy who committed suicide after being hazed and harassed.

This educational event did a lot to challenge stereotypes about homosexuality and make anti-gay remarks and behavior a lot more unacceptable.

I don't want my gay friends walking the school corridors in fear or worrying about getting beat up on the way home because they're being harassed by some bully. I don't want them or anyone else my age to feel so helpless and alone that they are driven to suicide. That's why I hope that the Gay-Straight Alliance at El Modena High School survives the current controversy and is able to do what our club has done. We haven't changed everybody's minds and don't expect to because what people think about homosexuality is their own business. But we do now have a school where peer pressure affects--in a positive way--what more people say and do. This means that our school is a better place for everyone to learn and grow.

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