My school, South Garland High School in Garland, Texas, is really large and diverse. It’s also right outside of Dallas, so it’s not like the fact that gay people exist is something new here. But I do still sometimes hear the word “faggot” thrown around in the hallway.

Sometimes it can be a scary place to be gay.

That’s why I decided to start a Gay-Straight Alliance. GSAs can provide a safe space for LGBT students and their friends to be who they are without having to hear that kind of thing. They make schools a safer place for everyone, and thankfully, they’re in thousands of schools all over the country and have been around since the 1990s.

With over 2,000 students here, it’s not surprising that we have more than 50 different student clubs and organizations. There are cultural groups like Sabor Latino and religious clubs like Fellowship of Christian Athletes. And, there are all sorts of clubs that are just about things people are interested in like: Table-Top Gaming Club, Fashion Club, Chess Club, and Comedy Improv Troupe. With so many clubs at our school, my friends and I didn’t think getting approval for a GSA would be a problem at all.

We lined up four faculty sponsors who were willing to help us out and came up with a plan to call our club the PRIDE (Promoting Relationships In Diversity Education) GSA. We planned a bunch of activities like a Rainbow Day in the spring when we’d all wear rainbow t-shirts and have a little pride party after school with snacks and music. One of the first things we wanted to do this semester was Ally Week. Created by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), it’s a time to talk about how we can all be better allies to LGBT students while helping to fight bullying and harassment.

There was some confusion while we were trying to make plans for the year, and for a while there we thought the school wasn’t going to let us call it a Gay-Straight Alliance, so the name would have to be just PRIDE. We also were told it shouldn’t be about LGBT stuff, but more of a general diversity club, doing stuff about Latino American culture and Black History Month even though there are already clubs that celebrate those things. And, we were under the impression that we couldn’t have Rainbow Day or Ally Week.

I went to the GLSEN website looking for help, and that’s when I found a link to the ACLU’s resources for LGBT students. I learned that federal law says that if a public school allows any noncurricular clubs like Table-Top Gaming Club or Fellowship of Christian Athletes, then it can’t say no when students want to start other noncurricular clubs like a GSA. The school also can’t act like it’s allowing a GSA and then just de-gay everything about our club – including the name. And best of all, I found out how to contact the ACLU for help.

So that’s why the ACLU LGBT Project and the ACLU of Texas worked with my school district last week to make sure they understood we have the legal right to form a club with GSA in the name and talk about LGBT issues. And, it was a big relief when the school told us that we could do all of the things we’d hoped for, including hosting Ally Week and Rainbow Day. More importantly, I learned that we had a right to equality and I wasn’t alone.

Ally Week starts today. All we want is to make South Garland High School a safer school, not just for LGBT students but for everyone. We’re glad our school has decided to become an ally, too, and help us make that happen, especially to take the “scary” away from being gay at South Garland High.

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