April 7, 2011
By: Tynan Power/TRT Reporter
Over forty people gathered in Cambridge this March to begin charting a course towards a state-wide gay straight alliance (GSA) network. On March 18th, Carolyn Laub, Executive Director of a California-based organization aptly called GSA Network, presented to an audience that included GSA members and advisors, state politicians, representatives of the Departments of Public Health (DPH) and Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and members of the Massachusetts Commission on GLBT Youth (MCGLBTY). The Commission invited Laub and Danielle Askini of the GSA Network to present and lead a workshop aimed at creating a GSA network in Massachusetts.
“I’ve wanted to get [Laub] out here for years,” said Arthur Lipkin, Chair of MCGLBTY. Lipkin was certain that Laub’s experience and know-how would help GSAs in Massachusetts organize their own network.
On March 19th, the group reconvened to explore the need for a GSA network in Massachusetts. Attendees seemed to whole-heartedly agree that there is a need for a network. Currently, there is no official means for Massachusetts GSAs to share information or resources. Some GSA members and advisors communicate with other groups informally online. However, as one attendee noted that many schools block social networking and email sites, which make informal networking more difficult for students who live in rural communities with limited internet access. Another challenge attendees noted is a tendency for Boston-based groups to act as if Massachusetts ends “at 495”-the Interstate beltway around Boston. Outreach and coordination with central and western Massachusetts may not happen without an official network.
As if to underscore this challenge, there was a noticeable lack of participation by students and advisors from western Massachusetts. While any number of factors may have played a role, one was surely transportation. Due to rigorous school safety requirements for transporting students, organizing a trip to Cambridge is a time-intensive and expensive proposition for schools outside the reach of Boston’s Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). A GSA network could organize and pay for things like transportation, Laub pointed out.
The next step, Lipkin stressed, is up to the GSAs. Striving to avoid a top-down approach, the Commission wants to create the space and learning opportunities-such as bringing in consultants like Laub and Askini-for Massachusetts GSAs to work together to create a network that will serve their unique needs. All agreed that youth involvement and leadership will be a crucial component in the future network.
At the end of the day, almost all participants expressed enthusiasm for the work at hand. The Commission invites all GSA members and advisors to get involved in planning the next steps. According to a March 23rd report by MCGLBTY, a task force is being formed. All interested parties are invited to attend the next meeting on April 6th, at 4pm. The meeting will be held at the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (75 Pleasant Street) in Malden, MA.
For more information and to be added to the GSA Network Task Force contact list, email Alison.Bourke@state.ma.us.