(Photo credit: ganeshaisis)
I often say that a gay-straight alliance is like an iceberg: you can only see a small part of it, you can only imagine how far it goes, and you have no way to tell how big it really is.
During my first year of teaching, I was asked by multiple students to sponsor a GSA, which is a student-led organization that creates a safe and supportive space for LGBTQ students and their allies. As a gay teacher who kept my personal life private, I didn’t necessarily feel ready to attach myself to the word “gay,” but I realized the kids needed this space and my only option was to sponsor it. After all, these students were in a much more difficult situation than my own involving identity and personal safety.
I got the GSA approved at the beginning of my second year, and I had no idea what to expect. In talking with my students, we all had similar anticipations: that this would be an important club for a small group who really needed it, the handful of students who, at the high school level, already knew and had accepted that something about themselves was different, and needed a safe environment in which to navigate those choppy waters.
My first indication that the GSA was something bigger came when signs went up advertising our first meeting. A supportive TFA colleague had hung a sign advertising our first meeting in her classroom. Without exception, she had a student in each class see it and shout out some version of, “Why are you hanging that up?” (sometimes phrased more offensively). But also without exception, she’d have another student respond with, “Where else do they have to go to feel respected?” This exchange was always followed by silence—hanging that sign was the first time a lot of students had ever thought about an LGBTQ student not as an abstract gross thing but as a fellow student.
A little bit more of the iceberg was being revealed.