Saturday, June 2, 2007

Iowa State University, Johnston High School named Iowa’s “Best Gay-Straight Alliances”

(Des Moines) Iowa State University and Johnston High School were presented with Iowa Pride Network’s Award for Best Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) at the Annual Matthew Shepard Scholarship Awards Dinner held at Hotel Fort Des Moines.

The Iowa Pride Network Awards go to GSAs that have shown a committed effort to raising awareness of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues on their campuses and in their communities and have pioneered programs that have increased the respect of LGBT people. Each application is evaluated on five categories: Education, Programming, Advocacy, Outreach and Community Service with consideration given to the impact their GSA programs and initiatives have on the climate and culture of their community.

“Both award-winning GSAs have significantly impacted the climate and culture of their campuses and communities,” stated Ryan Roemerman, Iowa Pride Network Director.

Iowa State University Alliance saw resurgence in membership and visibility due to a controversial measure, known as the Student Organization Recognition Policy. The proposed policy would have allowed various religious groups to discriminate within their membership based on sexual orientation. The Alliance created a coalition of student organizations to take on the discriminatory proposal. Paper and online petitions were created and protests and rallies were held to mobilize students.

Marcia Purdy, a member of the LGBT Student Service Advisory Board stated, “In the eight years of my involvement, even the Advisory Board has not been able to impact the policy and decision making of ISU administration in such a positive manner.” Alliance’s efforts to defeat the proposal paid off: Iowa State University adopted a new proposal with specific language saying that discrimination against student groups will not be tolerated.

Johnston High School’s GSA was almost not allowed to form. Students faced continual resistance from school administrators who made it clear that they were treating the GSA differently from other groups and that they were afraid that the club was only about recruiting students into the “gay lifestyle”. For weeks, the application of the GSA was denied or required extra paperwork. When it became clear that the school was trying to put up road-blocks, students met with the Iowa Pride Network and the ACLU of Iowa. After the ACLU of Iowa sent the school a letter, the school changed its tone and allowed the GSA.

“Johnston GSA was chosen not just because of how well the students exercised their rights as students while under extreme pressure, but also because of the amount of quality programming, outreach and advocacy the group was able to produce within half a year,” stated Roemerman.

In addition to hosting weekly meetings that attracted nearly two-dozen students, the group also lead educational presentations on gay-marriage, discrimination in schools and transgender issues. The group was exceptional at outreach, at one point having over five schools from the metro area attending meetings.

“Both groups exemplified what model high school and college GSAs should do—especially in light of opposition—and how important it is for students to know their rights,” added Roemerman.

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