Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students and their allies have an extra special reason to celebrate across the country today, as Jan. 25 marks the first National Gay-Straight Alliance Day.
As GSA Network notes in a press release, the day "is meant to strengthen the bond between LGBT people and straight allies, and in particular recognize and honor" gay-straight alliances (GSAs) which "work to educate their peers to stop homophobia and transphobia in schools and colleges." Over 4,000 GSAs have been registered across the country since 1999, the press release notes.
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recorded a special video message in honor of the occasion, noting, "Harassment and bullying are serious problems at schools and colleges, especially for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students. We have to dispel the myth that bullying is just a normal rite of passage, or an inevitable part of growing up."
Echoing that praise was Dr. Eliza Byard, Executive Director of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), who said in a statement:
"GSAs regularly demonstrate how students can transform their own school community based upon the principle of respect for difference. Even with the documented benefits of having a GSA in school, some school districts have tried to prevent students from establishing these student clubs. Not only does the school send the wrong message to students, but it is also illegal as outlined under the Federal Equal Access Act."
Both Duncan and Byard's statements seem particularly appropriate given recent controversy surrounding the acknowledgement of a GSA at Pepperdine University. As Malibu Patch is reporting, a petition in support of a GSA titled Reach OUT has been created after university officials opted not to recognize the group as an official university club. The Pepperdine University Graphic, a student-run campus newspaper, reported that Dean of Students Mark Davis said the decision was made to honor "the biblical conviction that sexual activity should be reserved for a husband-wife relationship."
The report also quotes Davis as saying:
"Pepperdine seeks to be faithful to this teaching because we believe it is God's will, and therefore we cannot endorse another view or take a neutral position on sexual morality. Although Reach OUT stated in its application that it has no position on sexual activity, we do not believe it is possible for an LGBT student organization to maintain a neutral position."