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social sciences

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Student Organizations  
page: 1  2  

These young lesbians and lesbian organizations played a significant role in the burgeoning lesbian feminist movement. For example, Rita Mae Brown, who had been one of the founders of the Student Homophile League chapter at New York University, subsequently helped establish the Furies, a lesbian collective that shaped the theory and practice of lesbian feminism, and became one of the leading lesbian writers of the twentieth century.

Bisexual and Transgender Groups

Bisexual and transgender students likewise sought to be included more fully in campus gay and lesbian groups and formed their own organizations in the 1980s and 1990s. Ironically, many of the bisexual student organizations were begun by women who felt excluded from the lesbian groups that had been established earlier by women who felt marginalized in gay groups.

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Transgender students often face discrimination in ways that are rarely experienced by non-trans lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals, such as having to pressure administrators to change school records to reflect their true gender, being able to have access to the appropriate bathroom, and being assigned to a residence hall in keeping with their gender.

While many lesbian, gay, and bisexual student organizations added "transgender" to their names in the 1990s, few groups actually changed their focus to incorporate trans issues, leading trans students to continue to feel isolated and invisible. This lack of inclusion has contributed to the formation of transgender support groups at institutions where trans students have felt safe enough to come out to others.

High School Groups

The existence of at least one glbtq group at most colleges and universities since the 1970s has called attention to the concerns of glbtq students and helped improve the campus climate for members of the glbtq community. But, until recently, there have not been similar groups for glbtq students in high schools and junior high schools, and the hostile atmosphere for glbtq people in secondary education was largely ignored by teachers and administrators.

Glbtq high school students experience rampant harassment. A study by the Massachusetts Governor's Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth discovered that 97 percent of high school students regularly heard anti-gay remarks from other students, and 53 percent heard such comments from school staff. Another survey found that, over the course of a month, 25 percent of gay, lesbian, and bisexual students had been threatened with a weapon at their high school and 25 percent had also skipped classes because they felt unsafe.

With high school administrators often failing to address the virulently anti-glbtq climate at most institutions, students took the initiative. In 1989, glbtq students and heterosexual allies in private Massachusetts high schools established Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) to educate other students about glbtq issues. Despite opposition from some principals and school boards, clubs quickly developed at many high schools and a handful of junior highs throughout the country. As of 2006, there are more than 3,000 GSAs nationwide, with chapters having been formed in every state but North Dakota.


In a little more than thirty years, the number of glbtq student organizations has grown from a handful found at large universities to several thousand spread throughout the country to nearly all college campuses. Even many religiously affiliated institutions now have a glbtq student group, although often only after a long political or legal struggle.

Indeed, the formation of student groups, even at progressive universities, frequently met with resistance, including antigay violence. Often administrators and student governments withheld recognition or funding of glbtq groups, and flyers announcing their activities were routinely torn down or defaced. Legislatures in some states, such as Alabama and Colorado, passed antigay legislation aimed at student groups. Eventually these laws were overturned by federal courts, but it is important to observe that student groups were not particularly welcomed by colleges and universities and often had to struggle for recognition and acceptance.

Along with specific organizations for lesbians, bisexuals, and trans people, many colleges and universities today have groups that reflect the multiple identities and interests of glbtq students. For example, the University of California, Berkeley has 14 glbtq organizations, including groups for Latinas/os, Asians, Catholics, Jews, graduate students, science and engineering majors, and outdoor enthusiasts, along with an administrative office, a student resource center, and special interest housing.

With the student bodies of many schools becoming more diverse and with more glbtq students coming out before or during their college years, the number of glbtq organizations will continue to grow.

Similarly, the number of high school Gay-Straight Alliances will likely increase greatly in the twenty-first century, as more attention is given to the climate for glbtq students in secondary education. With glbtq youth coming out at younger ages and seeking support from administrators and other students, GSAs will also be organized at many more junior highs. Organizing student groups at the high school and junior high school level often sparks opposition among school boards and conservative parents. In some instances, lawsuits have had to be brought in order for glbtq students and allies to be able to exercise their Constitutional right of freedom of assembly.

Brett Genny Beemyn

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social sciences >> Overview:  Colleges and Universities

The efforts of glbtq students, staff, and faculty over the last thirty years to make their colleges and universities more responsive to glbtq issues have noticeably improved the campus climate at many institutions in the United States, though some harassment continues.

social sciences >> Overview:  Fraternities and Sororities

Glbtq students are involved in both traditional Greek-letter societies and in gay-oriented fraternities and sororities.

social sciences >> Overview:  Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN)

The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) is a national organization in the United States dedicated to creating safe school environments for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students.

social sciences >> Overview:  Gay-Straight Alliances

Gay-straight alliances are youth-led, school- or community-based groups designed to assist glbtq students, children from glbtq families, and heterosexual students who want to be allies of their glbtq peers.

social sciences >> Overview:  Homophobia

Homophobia was originally defined as a "dread of being in close quarters with homosexuals," but it is now sometimes used to describe any form of anti-gay bias.

social sciences >> Overview:  Sex Education

Sex education programs are vulnerable to the attempts of religious radicals to hijack the sex education movement as a means of disseminating their own repressive blend of intolerance and fear.

social sciences >> Overview:  Teachers

Historically, glbtq teachers have faced all manner of social pressures, including open hostiliy and expectations that they hide their sexuality; now, however, teacher groups and individuals are working to improve the climate for glbtq teachers.

social sciences >> Overview:  Transgender Issues in Education

Transgender people are becoming increasingly visible at secondary and post-secondary schools; if institutions are to be welcoming to people of all genders, issues of discrimination and equal access to facilities and health care need to be addressed.

social sciences >> ACLU LGBT & AIDS Project

For more than four decades, the ACLU has been at the forefront of litigation and education designed to secure glbtq rights on a variety of fronts.

literature >> Brown, Rita Mae

Lesbian poet and novelist Rita Mae Brown, best known for the highly successful Rubyfruit Jungle, resists neat categorization.

social sciences >> Gay Liberation Front

Formed soon after the Stonewall Riots of 1969, the short-lived but influential Gay Liberation Front brought a new militancy to the movement that became known as gay liberation.

social sciences >> Gill, Tim

Founder of the Gill Foundation, computer entrepreneur and philanthropist Tim Gill has used his wealth to benefit the glbtq community.

social sciences >> Jennings, Kevin

Kevin Jennings transformed his anger at bullying and gay bashing in schools into founding the first national organization to address the homophobia experienced by glbtq youth in schools.

social sciences >> Mattachine Society

One of the earliest American gay movement organizations, the Mattachine Society was dedicated to the cultural and political liberation of homosexuals; but in the face of McCarthyism, it adopted conservative policies of accommodationism.

social sciences >> Stonewall Riots

The confrontations between police and demonstrators at the Stonewall Inn in New York City the weekend of June 27-29, 1969 mark the beginning of the modern glbtq movement for equal rights.


Beemyn, Brett. "The Silence Is Broken: A History of the First Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual College Student Groups." Journal of the History of Sexuality, forthcoming.

Draughn, Tricia, Becki Elkins, and Rakhi Roy. "Allies in the Struggle: Eradicating Homophobia and Heterosexism on Campus." Addressing Homophobia and Heterosexism on College Campuses. Elizabeth P. Cramer, ed. Binghamton, N. Y.: Harrington Park Press, 2002. 9-20.

Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network.

Kissack, Terence. "Freaking Fag Revolutionaries: New York's Gay Liberation Front, 1969-1971." Radical History Review 62 (Spring 1995): 104-34.


    Citation Information
    Author: Beemyn, Brett Genny  
    Entry Title: Student Organizations  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated September 7, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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