DeKALB – The classrooms where the Gay-Straight Alliance meet are meant to be safe places.
It’s in these classrooms where the Clinton Rosette Middle School students decorate banners or generate fundraising ideas. It’s a safe place for jokes, secrets and friends.
The Gay-Straight Alliance chapter formed at the middle school during the 2011-12 academic year. Chapters were established years ago at DeKalb High School and Northern Illinois University. The group’s advisers believe the Clinton Rosette Middle School chapter is the first Illinois middle school to have one.
“It was all student-led and student-organized,” said Chrissy Somers. “They wanted a GSA because some of the students, whether they identified as being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, or whether they felt they were an ally, they needed a place where they felt safe to talk about some of these ideas.”
Somers, a seventh-grade language arts teacher at Clinton Rosette, said the chapter is hosting a parent night April 18.
Gay-Straight Alliance chapters have been created at schools and universities nationwide, although there appear to be few at middle schools. According to the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, www.glsen.org, more than 4,000 chapters had registered with it in 2008.
Interacting with the 10 to 15 Gay-Straight Alliance members at Clinton Rosette are their sponsors – Somers and Ali Henry, a special education program assistant. Somers and Henry said the titles reflect the student demand for the group. As sponsors, the two guide discussions and activities geared toward increasing education and awareness about gay rights and issues.
“[Education is] making it a safer place so once we get the school to become a safe place, the community would be a bigger goal,” Henry said.
A Daily Chronicle reporter attended a Gay-Straight Alliance club meeting, but school administrators declined to allow the students involved to provide their names out of safety concerns. Henry passed the reporter’s contact information on to parents of students involved; none contacted the Daily Chronicle for interviews.
Students in the group have volunteered with the community dinner organization Feed’Em Soup, and they’ve made T-shirts that say, “Don’t Hate, Educate.” Henry said they are raising money to send some of the students to a Gay-Straight Alliance leadership camp with the NIU chapter.
But Somers and Henry are aware that some people might be skeptical. Henry said they received calls from parents who wanted to know what the group did.
“The calls we’re getting – they think we’re teaching different things than we really are,” Henry said. “... They think we’re teaching sixth-graders about sex.”
Rather, they talk with the children about how to respond when they hear someone use the word “gay” to describe something they think is stupid. The advisers also recognize that they have limits when it comes to a student’s home life.
“We give the kids information if they are dealing with struggles at home,” Somers said. “They might come into the next meeting and explain some struggles they’re having, in which case we can help them. But in no way, shape or form do we tell parents how to parent. We provide resources.”
Stacy Schoo, a member of the PTA at Clinton Rosette, said a student from the group spoke to the PTA last year about it.
“I’ve heard nothing but good things about what they are doing,” Schoo said, “and what they stand for.”