Last week, students of South Lafourche High School in Galliano, LA, held the first meeting of their Gay-Straight Alliance, a student club with a mission to support Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning students and their friends. Students had approached the administration last fall about forming a GSA, and were refused. After a letter from the ACLU of Louisiana, Principal Aubrey Orgeron allowed the club to form with the help of a supportive faculty sponsor.
GSA's are student clubs like any other, and the law is clear that schools that allow students to have extra-curricular clubs may not discriminate on the basis of the subject matter of that club. "High school students have the right to have clubs on issues that interest them," said ACLU of Louisiana Executive Director Marjorie R. Esman. "It's not up to the administration to decide which clubs are permissible. Students should be rewarded for taking the initiative to form a new club - and fortunately Mr. Orgeron recognized his obligation towards the students at his school."
GSA's are particularly important because anti-gay harassment and violence are widespread among teenagers, especially in schools. Gay-Straight Alliances create a space where students can come together to share their experiences, to discuss anti-gay attitudes they may experience in school, to support their friends, or to debate different perspectives on gay-related issues. Students talking openly and honestly with other students is a uniquely effective way of making young people aware of the harms caused by discrimination and violence. Schools should encourage conversations among their students, particularly where student safety can be at stake.
Esman continued: "South Lafourche students are entitled to a safe school environment where they are free from harassment. Nothing makes more sense than providing students with a forum to talk about what's on their minds, and that's what a GSA does. It's good for the students, good for the school, and good for the community."
A student who attended the meeting said, "It's not about gay or straight, religious views, or personal beliefs. This club, our club, is about creating a neutral and accepting school environment. The thirty or so students who were today all believe in that mission wholeheartedly, and the fact that all of these people are so open-minded and nonjudgmental is refreshing. We thank Louisiana ACLU for their unyielding support, and our Principal Mr. Orgeron for allowing us to form this club. Although denied in the past, he has been gracious and accepting of our goals in the present."
A copy of the ACLU'S letter to Aubrey Orgeron may be found here.