Dallas Voice (Dallas, Tex.), Vol. 28, No. 22, Ed. 1 Friday, October 14, 2011 Page: 10 of 48
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For 10 years, Gay-Straight Alliances
in Fort Worth schools have given
LGBTQ and their straight friends a
place to go for support and safety
ANDREA GRIMES I Contributing Writer
It's been 10 years since two high school boys
started the first Gay-Straight Alliance club in
Tarrant County at Fort Worth's Southwest
High School, and membership is way/way up.
This year, on any given Friday, dozens of kids
show up to Rebecca Cooper's classroom in a
cramped, low-ceilinged portable building to do
what a lot of kids do—braid each other's hair or
practice gymnastics in the grass outside.
But they also do what a lot of kids will never
have to do: trade phone numbers so that when
they come out to their family, they've got a place
to go and a support group if the conversation
ends in a fight, or worse — homelessriess or even
a suicide attempt. (An estimated 20 to 40 percent
of homeless youth are LGBTQ, according to the
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.)
Between the hair braiding and the back flips,
Gay-Straight Alliance clubs save lives. It's as sim-
ple as that.
Southwest High School sponsor Rebecca
Cooper says She's seen it with her own eyes; GS As
serve as safe spaces, where lesbian, gay, bisexual,
transgender, queer and questioning students can
feel empowered rather than intimidated.
"Because there's a lack of fear [at GSAs]," says
Cooper, Students are confident in sharing their
own personal experiences to help their peers.
At a meeting, says Cooper, you might have a kid
who says, "I thought about suicide three days ago."
But "before you know it," she says, "You've got six,
eight, 10 kids around him, like swoosh. They're
going, Here's my phone number, I've been there.™*'
Anti-bullying efforts have moved to the fore-
front of the national conversation in the past cou-
ple of years, thanks in part to high-profile
campaigns like Dan Savage's "It Gets Better" proj-
ect, which inspired Fort Worth City Councilmem-
ber Joel Burns to tell his own story, during an
October 2010 City Council meeting of contemplat-
GATHERING | Rebecca Cooper, front center, opens her classroom at Southwest High School to LGBT
students and their friends looking for someplace where they feel safe enough to talk openly, and where
they can find friendship and support from others like them. (Andrea Grimes/Dallas Voice}
ing suicide after being bullied.
But every week — and every night, and every
day, really whenever a student needs a help or a
hug or a sounding board—since December, 2001,
students in Fort Worth's Gay-Straight Alliances
have been telling each other that it gets better, that
there's someone out there who cares.
As of this year, there are three active GSAs in
the Fort Worth Independent School District:
Southwest High School's Gay-Straight Alliance,
Western Hills High School's Q-Status and Paschal
High School's G.L.O.W. (Gay, Lesbian or What-
ever), with two more inactive high school groups
Cooper estimates that up to 70 percent of her
club is straight. The unity and cooperation be-
tween straight and non-straight students is part
of what makes the simple existence of GSA's So,
Not only are GSAs safe spaces for LGBTQ stu-
dents, they also build rapport and trust between
the LGBTQ community and the straight majority.
"Straight people want to be part of the change;"
says Western Hills' Q-Status President Italia Sali-
nas, a junior. "You don't have to be gay to help
others have respect and support."
Often, hurtful and hateful speech comes out of
what English teacher Marvin Varin calls anti-gay in-
dividuals' sease of a "mandated right" to denounce
homosexuality because of their religious beliefs. He
says Gay-Straight Alliances help give: strength to stu-
dents who might otherwise feel swamped and sur-
rounded by Christians with "loving" messages —
like the employee who told Italia Salinas' friend she
was going to hell for being a lesbian.
Last year, recalls Salinas, a school employee —
not a teacher — told a friend of hers that she'd go
to hell because of her sexuality.
While Salinas and her friend were walking
down the school hallway one day, an employee
asked the two girls where they were headed.
When they talked about going to a Q-Status meet-
ing and explained what it was, the employee
asked Salinas' friend if she went to church. She
said she did, a Catholic church.
Salinas remembers the employee, someone
they'd laughed and joked with since their fresh-
man year, telling her friend, "I love you, but being
gay is not okay, and I care about you so I don't
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Nash, Tammye. Dallas Voice (Dallas, Tex.), Vol. 28, No. 22, Ed. 1 Friday, October 14, 2011, newspaper, October 14, 2011; Dallas, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth239189/m1/10/: accessed May 30, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Special Collections.