Thursday, September 19, 2013

Gay-Straight Alliances and the Mental Health of Sexual Minority Youth

Research suggests that gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in schools are typically associated with positive outcomes for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning, or sexual minority, youth (SMY)1-3, but is it their presence, the youth’s participation, or both that lends to these outcomes? In their recent article, School Climate, Individual Support, or Both? Gay Straight Alliances and the Mental Health of Sexual Minority Youth, authors Walls, Wisneski, and Kane aimed to examine this question.

The Sample

The sample for this study included 284 self-identified SMY who participated in the 2006 online annual survey for Rainbow Alley, part of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center of Colorado.
  • Ages 13-22 (M=17.9, SD=2.1)
  • 52.8% female, 40.9% male, 6.3% transgender
  • 72.9% White or Asian, 11.6% bi- or multiracial, 6.3% Latino/a, 6.0% African American, 3.2% Native American or Hawaiian Native
  • 82% currently in school or college
  • GSAs:
    • 41.6% of youths' schools did not have GSAs
    • 20.8% of youths' schools had GSAs, but the youth was not a member
    • 37.7% of youths' schools had GSAs, of which the youth was a member

The Results

The researchers examined the relationships between both GSA presence and GSA membership with mental health problems (e.g., suicidality, alcohol and drug use) and a desire for increased gender conformity. Results showed that suicide attempts were significantly lower for youth in schools where a GSA was present (16.9%) than for youth in schools where a GSA was not present (33.1%). Of those participants whose schools where a GSA was present, the desire to be more gender conforming was significantly lower for members of GSAs (14%) than non-members (37.3%). Additionally, rates of having never used cocaine were lower for GSA members (86%) than non-members (76.3%).

The Implications

The authors suggest that a combination of GSA presence and membership can uniquely contribute to the positive outcomes of SMY youth. Specifically, GSA presence is associated with a reduction in suicide attempts, whereas GSA membership is associated with reduced use of substances and greater self-acceptance of gender expression. School social workers should begin and foster the development of GSAs to promote positive academic and mental health outcomes for SMY students, particularly among gender variant SMY.

For More Information

A draft version of this article can be found on Dr. Walls’ DU portfolio here. You can reach Dr. Walls at or (303) 871-4367.


Walls, N.E., Wisneski, H., & Kane, S.B. (2013). School climate, individual support, or both? Gay straight alliances and the mental health of sexual minority youth. School Social Work Journal, 37(2), 88-111.


1 Russell, S. T., Muraco, A., Subramaniam, A., & Laub, C. (2009). Youth empowerment and high school gay-straight alliances. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 38, 891–903. doi: 10.1007/s10964-008-9382-8

2 Shores, J. L. (2008). A feeling of belonging: Impacts of gay-straight alliances on high school students. Unpublished dissertation. Arizona State University.

3 Walls, N. E., Freedenthal, S., & Wisneski, H. (2008). Suicidal ideation and attempts among sexual minority youth receiving social services. Social Work, 53, 21–29.

No comments:

Post a Comment