GSA at West Windsor Plainsboro High School North
I was fortunate enough to go to a high school that allowed the formation of a Gay-Straight Alliance. The GSA at West Windsor Plainsboro High School North was created in 2002 by a lesbian student and several allies. I joined in 2003 as a freshman. I was very involved in GSA throughout high school and I became vice president my senior year. Throughout those four years, the GSA was very active in the school community. We sponsored many events, and I would like to share ideas about these events with LGBT organizations at other schools.
We often organized movie nights. They took place in the evening at the school, and would be free and open to everybody. We showed queer films such as But I’m A Cheerleader, Boys Don’t Cry, and Hedwig and the Angry Inch, usually followed by a discussion. Because these movie nights were open to everybody, there were students who were not GSA members who participated.
Another fun evening event we hosted was the Drag Ball. This was open to GSA members from our school, and we also invited GSA organizations from neighboring high schools. The Drag Ball was a combination of a potluck, a dance, and an activity night, and dressing in drag was optional. There was a suggested donation of a few dollars, and the proceeds usually went to Amnesty International, which had a chapter at our school that collaborated with us at several events.
We also tried to raise awareness throughout the rest of the school community. We did this by organizing events during the school day that other students could participate in. One day a year, the principal would allow us to occupy the library for an entire day. We had guest speakers, poetry readings, discussions, and film clips. Some teachers brought their classes in for a period to listen and participate. We had several excellent guest speakers. One year we had the principal from a neighboring high school, who was openly gay, speak to us about homophobia in schools. A lesbian mom came to talk to us about family life with her partner and adopted son. One GSA member brought her older sister, who told us her coming-out story.
On one of these occasions, we had a screening of a short film that we had made ourselves. It was the story of a hypothetical universe where being gay is the norm. One girl realizes she is straight, and she decides to “come out” as being heterosexual. I wish I could show this movie on my OutHistory page, but the only copy has since been lost and unfortunately no one knows where it is.
We always had some sort of activity pertaining to National Coming Out Day and World AIDS Day. For World AIDS Day one year, we handed out red yarn bracelets to a fixed number of students. This was meant to represent the percentage of the people in the world who are affected by AIDS.
National Coming Out Day was another day where GSA had lots of involvement. One year, we tabled during lunch and had a giant sheet of white paper on which any student could come up and write “I Am (anything)”. They didn’t have to write “I Am Gay” or “I Am Straight” (although they could). They could write anything, such as “I Am Asian”, or “I Am Happy”, or “I Am Single, give me a call!” (These were all actual things that people wrote.) The purpose of this activity was to encourage students to “come out” as whatever they were, whether it had to do with their sexuality or not.
One of the biggest events that our GSA did was the annual Gay Wedding. Every June we staged a three-part wedding ceremony. We handed out invitations to hundreds of students. Six GSA members played the part of a gay couple, a lesbian couple, and a heterosexual couple, and we had a wedding ceremony for all three couples, to celebrate marriage equality. This was held during lunch so students could come and watch, and we handed out rainbow cupcakes. Students were attracted to the event by the cupcakes, but they often became interested in the organization itself. This event was excellent for recruiting new members.
Our GSA did all these events and more with no advisor and no funding. This shows that even without that kind of support, a student group can accomplish significant things. We were fortunate enough to have a very cooperative principal who supported us very much, as well as a relatively tolerant and accepting student population.
I recently observed a GSA meeting at my high school to see how it had changed in the few years since I graduated. The GSA is still not officially recognized as a school organization and therefore is still completely self-funded and self-sufficient, but despite this, they have accomplished so much. Today’s GSA is much bigger than it was when I was in high school, which is a very good sign because it shows that the organization is expanding, and more students are willing to join. They are also doing different events now. The one that I liked the most was Ally Week. They had students sign a contract in which they pledged not to use words like “gay” and “fag” in a derogatory manner for an entire week. Also, on the day I visited them, World AIDS Day was coming up, and they told me about a fundraiser in which they would be selling candy and rainbow necklaces during the week of World AIDS Day, and the proceeds would be donated to the Hyacinth AIDS Foundation.
Because of the increased size of the group, the format of the meeting itself was different. The first half of the meeting was dedicated to talking about events and things that they were organizing, and after that was a designated discussion time in which they talked about issues such as coming out.
When I graduated in 2007, most of the GSA graduated with me, and there were only a few students left. I was afraid that membership would disintegrate, and that the GSA would never revive itself and would become a thing of the past. We passed on the leadership to a student three years younger than us. She has since made the organization evolve into something even bigger than we had hoped for. Not only did meeting attendance nearly triple in size, but she had created a Facebook group for the organization, which over a hundred students joined. I was surprised that so many high school students would join that Facebook group without fear of judgment from less accepting students. The Facebook page is also updated frequently and sends out reminders before each meeting, which I am impressed by. I am extremely proud of the hard work that she and the other members put into GSA, making it bigger and better than it was when I left it.
The Gay Straight Alliance was one of my favorite things about high school, and it was very important to me. When I went to observe their meeting, I felt that the GSA had been left in good hands. It was comforting to know that this organization would help LGBTQ students at my high school in the present and future, just like it helped me.