Safe LGBT Spaces: What Schools Can Learn From Resource Groups

Diversity and inclusion can transform workplace experiences. GLSEN's Dr. Eliza Byard shows how resource groups, like gay-straight alliances, can help.

By Dr. Eliza Byard 


When I began my work at GLSEN 10 years ago, I had no idea that I would have a courtside seat for the emergence of one of the most important new forces in workplace diversity and corporate philanthropy: the resource group. In corporate workplaces, it is now expected that ERGs will be included in any diversity and inclusion strategy. Read Effective Uses of Employee Resource Groups and Why Resource Groups Are Business-Resource Groups for best practices.

During that same period, I have also witnessed the explosion of activism among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students, and the proliferation of student clubs known as gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in high schools and even some middle schools nationwide. GLSEN partners with amazing student leaders from all across the country, supports the formation of GSAs and maintains contact with a national network of thousands of these student clubs.

Over time, resource groups have demonstrated their value for increasing employee satisfaction and connection to their workplace, particularly when there is strong and visible C-suite support.  Affinity groups for LGBT employees and their allies are especially critical sources of support for those who face an entrenched—and sometimes violent—form of social prejudice. By supporting LGBT-specific ERGs, corporations and their most senior leaders convey a particularly powerful message about the importance of diversity to the entire organization. Read more on the best practices for the engagement of LGBT employees.

The same is true for the interaction of school administrations with students who want to form GSAs to help make their schools more welcoming places for LGBT students. Take, for example, the experience of Richard Walsh, a former GLSEN Student Ambassador and current college student. Richard came out at an early age and faced relentless bullying. When he reached high school, Richard said, "I made the decision to stand up … I founded my school's gay-straight alliance. It made my school community aware of the experiences that students like me endured on a regular basis. I soon noticed a difference in [my school's] climate: more students and school staff intervened when incidents of bullying took place, a forum for discussion opened up and people no longer worried about their own sexual orientation or gender identity being called into question. They were more likely to speak out about harassment against their classmates."

Richard and other club members began proactive efforts to change their school for the better. Members of the high-school administration had a simple but powerfully important response. They said yes.

Compare that to the experience of another openly gay student named Zach. This past October, Zach was brutally assaulted by a classmate simply because of his sexual orientation. Students watched the incident occur and did nothing to intervene. When GLSEN met with Zach and his family and offered support to students and administrators in the district, we learned that students at Zach's school were denied the opportunity to start a GSA. Clearly, that decision by school administrators sent exactly the wrong message to the student body and deprived them of a critical source of support.

The benefits of GSAs are confirmed by more than anecdote. GLSEN's 2009 National School Climate Survey, a biennial survey first launched in 1999 to document the school experiences of LGBT students nationally, found that LGBT students with a GSA were less likely to feel unsafe in school, experienced less victimization, were more able to identify supportive educators and felt more connected to the school community than students who did not have access to such a club. The study also found that the presence of GSAs and other forms of in-school support contributed to higher grade-point averages among students and a greater likelihood that students would plan to graduate and go on to college.

For LGBT students and their allies, GSAs provide invaluable peer support, promote safer school climates and encourage an overall feeling of inclusion within a school community. I am sure that those of you who have experienced the ERG revolution in the corporate workplace can identify many ways in which ERGs have had a similar impact on your individual experience.

But individual experience is not the only thing that has been transformed by GSAs and ERGs. These groups have also started to change the world by organizing individual energy for the greater good. For GSAs, this takes the form of outreach to peers with events like GLSEN's Ally Week and Day of Silence, designed to promote positive change in schools, or work in coalition to bring the resources of the GSA to bear on the concerns of other student affinity groups.

Resource-group members—whatever characteristic brings them together—are similarly involved in a remarkable effort to transform workplace experience for themselves and others. They also prompt greater engagement by their employers in the issues and causes that they care about most. Indeed, corporate support—whether through resource-group volunteerism or resource-group-inspired corporate sponsorship—has contributed substantially to efforts to improve school climate for LGBT youth. Read about the Pride resource group at HP in The Business Benefits of Employee-Resource Groups.

One transformative movement supports another. One generation encourages another and is in turn inspired to do more itself. From where I sit, that definitely looks like a recipe for lasting change. 

Byard is the executive director of GLSEN. DiversityInc Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Barbara Frankel is a member of the GLSEN National Board of Directors.

 

Religious Faith Linked to Suicidal Behavior in LGBQ Adults

Although religiosity is generally tied to reduced suicide risk, the opposite may be true for some young lesbian, gay and questioning adults.

(Reuters ) — Although religiosity is generally tied to reduced suicide risk, the opposite may be true for some young lesbian, gay and questioning adults, researchers say.

Read More Show Less
REUTERS

'He's Funny That Way': Dylan, Kesha Lend Voices to LGBT Songs

Six-song "Universal Love" album includes flipping pronouns or having male and female singers reverse traditional roles.

(Reuters) — Bob Dylan, Kesha and Valerie June are among the musicians and singers reimagining classic love songs as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender anthems in a new album released on Thursday.

Read More Show Less
REUTERS

Widow of Pulse Gunman Cleared of all Charges

Noor Salman could have faced up to life in prison had she been convicted.

(Reuters) — The widow of the Pulse nightclub gunman walked free on Friday after a jury cleared her of charges related to the 2016 massacre that killed 49 people in Orlando, stunning survivors who had longed to hold someone accountable.

Noor Salman, 31, could have faced up to life in prison had she been convicted of federal charges of obstruction of justice and aiding her husband, Omar Mateen, in providing support to the Islamic State militant group.

Read More Show Less

Teens who Hide Their Sexual Orientation Have Higher Suicide Risk

These findings among teens are similar to previous studies in adults, which also found links between sexual identity discordance, depression, drug and alcohol use, and suicidal ideation.

(Reuters) — Teens who hide their true sexual orientation are at higher risk for suicidal behaviors, a new study suggests.

Read More Show Less

Many Transgender Patients Not Insured for Gender-affirming Surgery

The proportion of patients getting genital surgery as part of their transition rose from 72 percent in the period from 2000 to 2005 to 84 percent from 2006 to 2011, yet 56 percent paid out of pocket.

(Reuters) — Even though a growing number of transgender patients now use insurance for gender-affirming surgery, almost half are still paying cash for procedures their health plans don't cover, a U.S. study suggests.

Read More Show Less

Sexual Orientation Top Risk for Suicidal Thoughts in College Freshmen

The results suggest that the first year of college could be an ideal time to screen all entering students for suicide risk and intervene appropriately.

(Reuters) — Nearly one third of first-year college students have thought about suicide, according to a study across eight countries, and non-heterosexual identity or feelings were the biggest risks for this kind of thinking or behavior.

Read More Show Less