BY RACHEL BEEBE
“It was really different back in the 1950s.” Phyllis Lyon’s words echoed around the auditorium where more than 400 middle and high school students sat listening to her talk about moving to the Castro district of San Francisco with her late wife Del Martin in 1955 and founding the Daughters of Bilitis. She recounted getting a phone call from one of the few lesbians the pair had met. “Do you want to come to a meeting?” the woman had asked. “A few of us want to start a secret lesbian society,” Lyon stage whispered, at which the crowd of teens went wild with cheers and applause. “And you can imagine what we said,” Lyon joked. The students in attendance understood the importance of having clubs because they were all members of their schools’ gay-straight alliance.
The GSA Network is a nonprofit organization that provides support for gay-straight alliances in schools across California and nationwide. While not directly affiliated with the middle and high schools they work to improve, the GSA Network provides training and resources for students and teachers that are part of gay-straight alliances. They encourage young people to confront the homophobia and discrimination they come up against every day at school. The students and teachers at the Youth Empowerment Summit all said that the biggest problem in schools is slurs, but there are also many schools struggling with hate crimes and more violent types of discrimination.
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