My work: creating a safer school environment for LGBTQ youth by helping students build Gay-Straight Alliances
Creating a safer middle- and high-school environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth by helping students find Gay-Straight Alliances and linking them in a youth-led network.
This profile was prepared when Carolyn Laub was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2000.
The New Idea
Gay-Straight Alliances have existed in American high schools for several years; as the name denotes, many of their members are straight. Sometimes straight youth join because they are the children or siblings of a gay person and are sensitized to discrimination. Carolyn has created a network of Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) that empowers them to grow and take on more sophisticated tactics in order to fight homophobia and make schools safer for youth. Through a variety of services, she helps students start GSAs, keep them going, get connected, access community resources, and become more effective in fighting homophobia on their campuses. She also demonstrates to them how homophobic violence and cruelty are often rooted in deep, embedded social attitudes not about sexual orientation but about gender expression and gender nonconformity. Gay-Straight Alliance Network, the organization Carolyn founded as her institutional base, is unique in several respects. It is student-led: the key decision-making body of the organization is a Youth Council made up of high school students who represent the counties where the network is active. It encourages GSAs to transform their orientation from support to activist. Student activism is an effective way to change the atmosphere on campuses. As part of this re-orientation, Carolyn provides GSAs with concrete suggestions for activities, events, and campaigns. Last, it aligns itself with other youth activist organizations in order to link lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) liberation with a larger social justice movement. By linking GSA activism with other youth-led organizations, and by launching multi-issue campaigns, Carolyn is able to broaden the focus of her constituency from issue politics to fighting all kinds of discrimination.