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Forming a gay straight alliance without controversy.

North Penn High School, a public school in suburban Philadelphia, consists of almost 3,300 students in grades 10 through 12. Eight5' percent of the student body is white, 11 percent Asian-American, five percent African-American, three percent Latino, and two percent other. Though the median income makes North Penn an upper-middle class school district, 10 percent of students receive subsidized lunches.

During the 2002-03 school year, students at North Penn High School formed a Gay Straight Alliance without incident. I have had the honor of serving as the group's faculty advisor.

WORKING WITH THE ADMINISTRATION

Although the North Penn School District has a socially conservative school board, it recognized the students' legal right to form a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA). Moreover, our administrators have demonstrated unwavering support for creating a safer and more tolerant school environment for students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT).

Once the GSA was formed, I met regularly with my building principal and school psychologist. During these meetings, we were able to process the rationale for various activities and unique circumstances faced by our club. This ongoing dialogue helped increase administrative awareness and understanding of the objectives of the club.

Other members of the school community were supportive as well. In fact, almost 40 percent of the staff attended the trainings on handling the topic of sexual orientation in school that I facilitated, with the help of students.

THE DAY OF SILENCE

During April, the Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) sponsors a national Day of Silence, on which students throughout the country are silent in school, to bring attention to the plight of LGBT students.

Before the Day of Silence, a group of seven North Petal High School students created posters that told the stories of individuals who were murdered because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The students also made red t-shirts that read "Day of Silence, 2003" across the front and proclaimed "End the Need for Silence" on the back.

On the Day of Silence, 99 students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or straight allies participated by handing out cards to teachers and students that told stories of hate crime murders and explained the rationale for silence. Students wore their red t-shirts in solidarity. For the first time in the history of North Penn High School, LGBT students could walk the halls and recognize numerous allies and friends.

When the school day ended, 40 participants met in my classroom to break their silence. While people were filtering in, some students danced to the music while others were engaged in Chalk Talk, a silent activity in which they wrote their reflections on the Day of Silence on the board. We then sat in a circle on the floor, surrounded by an outer circle of adult allies in our building. The adults who attended included our building principal, an assistant principal, school nurses, the school psychologist, a guidance counselor, the budget administrative professional, and a number of teachers.

We passed a rainbow ribbon approximately two meters in length around the circle. Once each student held the ribbon, they would drape it over themselves and state, "My name is___________, and I am breaking my silence." Each individual then explained why the Day of Silence was personally meaningful. A number of students cried as they reflected on the day, and a number of adults cried as they listened to the powerful experiences of students who were courageously breaking down feelings of isolation.

VISIBLE RESULTS

During North Penn's senior prom, two gay male students brought their boyfriends and other gay and lesbian students, who brought dates of the opposite sex, danced with same sex partners. Not a single gay or lesbian student experienced harassment at the prom. I don't believe that our students are necessarily more liberated and accepting than others. I believe that harassment was non-existent at our prom because our GSA worked hard to create an extraordinary sense of safety and understanding within our school.
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Article Details
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Author:Hall, David
Publication:SIECUS Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2003
Words:665
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