March 26, 2014

The Creation of a GSA In a Rural Maine School

Maine may be the first state to achieve marriage equality by popular vote, but that is only part of the story. Southern and coastal Maine tends to be more progressive than inland, northern and eastern parts of the state. The statewide marriage equality vote was heavily carried by those more progressive areas, where the state population is concentrated. In other areas the vote was definitely negative, in keeping with the generally conservative and religious populations there. The work that the Downeast Maine chapter of GLSEN does is mostly in that part of the state.

We learned a few years ago that students in a high school in a very rural conservative area were attempting to start a GSA, and were experiencing strong reluctance from the administration. Although other clubs could be started with only the blessing of the administrators, the GSA for some reason required the Board's approval, and it was hard to get the matter on their agenda. Months became two years, but the ninth-grade boy who initiated the idea was persistent.

Over the next year, a newly-formed PFLAG chapter in the area, together with the Downeast and Southern Maine GLSEN chapters, and with some lawyerly help from Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), collaborated to support the students. Students also initiated a social media campaign and gathered hundreds of "likes." Together we persuaded the school administrators that they had no legal right to deny the GSA's formation unless they disbanded all school clubs. We were pleased to learn then from the same administrators that they had been in favor of the GSA from the beginning, despite their having given no indication of that.

Now three years later the GSA is thriving. They have had several school-wide events, are well-known, and even carried a large banner in the school's Homecoming Parade last fall. We have been staying in close touch with them, and occasionally attending their meetings.

To date there has been no contagion to other schools in that part of the state, but our GLSEN chapters are working on it!

--Peter Rees is a member of GLSEN's Downeast Maine chapter. 

Connect with GLSEN Southern Maine or Downeast Maine  -  Get the Facts about GSAs  -  Find a GSA Advisor  -  Learn About LGBT Students in Rural and Small Towns

Ricardo Martinez

About Ricardo Martinez

As Senior Field Services Manager, Ricardo works to support a network of mostly volunteer-led chapters that bring GLSEN programs to their local communities. // @OneCanDoLots // pronouns: he/him/his

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