With support from the University of Richmond

History News Network

History News Network puts current events into historical perspective. Subscribe to our newsletter for new perspectives on the ways history continues to resonate in the present. Explore our archive of thousands of original op-eds and curated stories from around the web. Join us to learn more about the past, now.

How Schools Reinvigorated the Stonewall Revolution

The groups have always been about a simple, key objective: Stop all the dying.

The groups are GSAs—Gender-Sexuality Alliances, though they were originally known as Gay-Straight Alliances—and that was their mission when they first rose to prominence in the late 1980s. GSAs were usually small clubs, led by a combination of students and teachers who would meet during lunch or after class and exchange advice on how to navigate problems such as depression and bullying, plan advocacy campaigns, and distribute information on topics such as safe sex and national policy trends. Perhaps, the theory was, just by existing, these groups could make gay kids feel less alone, and that itself could reduce suicide risk, which was common among gay teens at the time.

Arthur Lipkin, a former high-school history teacher, an author, and a prominent LGBTQ-rights advocate, was one of the GSA movement’s earliest pioneers. In 1988, Lipkin, then a 30-something educator who’d come out just a few years prior, founded a GSA-like group called Project 10 East at his public high school in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Lipkin, now in his early 70s, drew inspiration from another queer-advocacy school group, the Los Angeles–based Project 10, the name a reference to Alfred Kinsey’s theory that about 10 percent of men are gay. ) Of course, Lipkin says, not all queer students joined, but for “students who may have wanted to go [to club meetings] but were afraid, just knowing it was there might have been a comfort.”

Before long, similar campus clubs were cropping up—in the Boston area and beyond—“simultaneously” and “spontaneously,” says Sharon Tentarelli, who as a high-school junior in 1989 founded the GSA at the prestigious boarding school Phillips Academy Andover.

GSAs sprang up organically because of the presence of leaders who felt a need for them, not a national leadership structure that swooped in and set them up. Though they varied in size and strategy from group to group, they tended to share the same basic vision, one articulated by Kevin Jennings, now 56, then a young high-school history teacher at a Boston-area boarding school called Concord Academy: Make gay students feel less alone. In 1988 he founded the first club to bear the “GSA” moniker.

Read entire article at The Atlantic