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Gay-Straight Alliance sets example for change

     Another Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) flyer is found crumbled on the ground in the hallway of Lakeside. A  CA unravels the discarded paper and makes a phone call notifying the club they need to bring another replacement poster. Fortunately, they keep extra copies. After all, this wouldn’t be the first time a GSA flyer has been ripped from a bulletin board.

     The GSA, in the face of countless tribulations, continue their valiant efforts towards making a safer, more tolerable relationship between the LGBT community and the rest of society. They began such a substantial change by becoming an active club on ABAC’s campus. It’s been a long process for GSA to become the thriving club they are today; a long process which involved discrimination, legal issues and an overall lack of acknowledgment.

     What is currently known as GSA, once referred to as SPECTRA, was founded by ABAC alumnus, Daniel English. During this time in 2009, SPECTRA was not a student-run organization recognized by the institution. Instead, it was a small group of LGBT students who would meet privately with the intent to see how much interest there was to begin a legitimate club.

     During this time, it was the duty of the Student Government Association (SGA), to determine whether a group could be approved to become an official ABAC club. SPECTRA was declined.

     “SPECTRA wasn’t able to be a club on the grounds of religious reasons,” says Alex Griffin, the current President of the GSA. “Several professors, students, even members of the SGA personally objected to the development of the club.”

      Obviously, this was discrimination. Lambda Legal, an American civil rights organization, got involved with the case. A letter was soon sent to ABAC explaining if they refused to allow this club, they will sue the institution for discriminatory acts.

     After finally having the approval the club needed, the next step was putting themselves out there. GSA initially started with very few members, but over time there has been a gradual increase. There was, however, a drastic increase in membership this year.

     “We definitely have Alex to thank for the number of new members we have,” said Ari Penne, the Vice President of GSA. “Since she has been president, we’ve become so involved.”

 

This is an example of the emails Gay-Straight Alliance President Alex Griffin gets. Photo courtesy of Alex Griffin.

     GSA is one of the most active clubs on campus. During any club-related event, you are sure to see them presenting themselves. They’ve participated in several events such as the Cake Decorating Contest, Club Rush, the Chalk Design Contest and Stallion Day. They host their own events as well, one of their most popular being the OUT!fit Project, which is a website that provides a closet and informational resource for transgender and gender non-conforming individuals to use.

      Even with legal issues out of the way, the GSA still faces the obstacle of funding. The club received funding before the recent consolidation with Bainbridge, but afterward, they received nothing. In order to compensate for the lost funds, the club now hosts events such as bake sales or in the winter months, a “Warm Your Heart” hot chocolate sale.

     “We would get a little funding before, but it was always a difficult process to get those funds,” said Ariel Pridgen, a former GSA President.

     April Abbott and Kaci West are the current advisors for GSA, and they are in charge of the club’s funds.

     Sadly, having their club proposal rejected in 2009 hasn’t been the only discrimination SPECTRA/GSA has dealt with over the years. SGA is intended to be a delegation for the students at ABAC. This means addressing the students’ needs and concerns.

     The SGA most likely declined SPECTRA on behalf of the feedback they may have received from students at the time. After they were approved, some students on campus were not afraid to show how upset this decision made them.

     GSA members are accustomed to getting dirty looks, eye rolls or the occasional snarky remark. They weren’t, however, prepared for the bitter treatment to turn violent.

     “There was an event at Lakeside one evening, where all the clubs could set up tables. At one point, we noticed this group of people standing beside us grab a handful of candy from our table, and so we offered them a flyer,” Penne said, “I guess they didn’t like that because on their way out they threw a flyer and a stress ball at us.”

The Gay-Straight Alliance host their weekly meetings to talk about new fundraising ideas or future activities the club can participate in. Club president Alex Griffin leads the discussions at the meetings. Photo by Danielle Long.

     After that occurrence, the club members became afraid to host events alone without some sort of faculty supervision.

Despite all the harassment they endure, GSA continues to put themselves out there, being one of the most active organizations on campus.

“No matter how much we get bullied, we always like to stay motivated,” Griffin said.

Griffin then went on to explain they persevere because of the impact the same harassment may have on an individual. The idea behind GSA is to ally with others to celebrate diversity and look beyond our differences.

“Be the change you want to see,” Penne said, “If you want the South to be more accepting, put yourself out there. Show them we aren’t going anywhere, and we are no different than anyone else.”

 

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