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High School Gay–Straight Alliances (GSAs) and Young Adult Well-Being: An Examination of GSA Presence, Participation, and Perceived Effectiveness

High School Gay–Straight Alliances (GSAs) and Young Adult Well-Being: An Examination of GSA Presence, Participation, and Perceived Effectiveness

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High School Gay–Straight Alliances (GSAs) and Young Adult Well-Being: An Examination of GSA Presence, Participation, and Perceived Effectiveness, a new study by Caitlin Ryan, a San Francisco State University faculty member and director of the Family Acceptance Project
High School Gay–Straight Alliances (GSAs) and Young Adult Well-Being: An Examination of GSA Presence, Participation, and Perceived Effectiveness, a new study by Caitlin Ryan, a San Francisco State University faculty member and director of the Family Acceptance Project

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This article was downloaded by: [Arizona State University]On: 07 November 2011, At: 08:52Publisher: Psychology PressInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House,37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK
Applied Developmental Science
Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/hads20
High School Gay–Straight Alliances (GSAs) and YoungAdult Well-Being: An Examination of GSA Presence,Participation, and Perceived Effectiveness
Russell B. Toomey
a
, Caitlin Ryan
b
, Rafael M. Diaz
b
& Stephen T. Russell
ca
Arizona State University
b
San Francisco State University
c
University of ArizonaAvailable online: 07 Nov 2011
To cite this article:
Russell B. Toomey, Caitlin Ryan, Rafael M. Diaz & Stephen T. Russell (2011): High School Gay–StraightAlliances (GSAs) and Young Adult Well-Being: An Examination of GSA Presence, Participation, and Perceived Effectiveness,Applied Developmental Science, 15:4, 175-185
To link to this article:
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10888691.2011.607378
PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLEFull terms and conditions of use:http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionsThis article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematicreproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, or distribution in any form toanyone is expressly forbidden.The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representation that the contentswill be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of any instructions, formulae, and drug doses shouldbe independently verified with primary sources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss, actions, claims,proceedings, demand, or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly inconnection with or arising out of the use of this material.
 
High School Gay–Straight Alliances (GSAs) and YoungAdult Well-Being: An Examination of GSA Presence,Participation, and Perceived Effectiveness
Russell B. Toomey
Arizona State University
Caitlin Ryan and Rafael M. Diaz
San Francisco State University
Stephen T. Russell
University of Arizona
Gay–Straight Alliances (GSAs) are student-led, school-based clubs that aim to provide asafeenvironmentintheschoolcontextforlesbian,gay,bisexual,andtransgender(LGBT)students,aswellastheirstraightallies.ThepresentstudyexaminesthepotentialforGSAsto support positive youth development and to reduce associations among LGBT-specificschoolvictimization andnegativeyoung adult well-being.The sampleincludes 245 LGBTyoung adults, ages 21–25, who retrospectively reported on the presence of a GSA in theirhigh school, their participation in their school’s GSA, and their perceptions of whether ornot their GSA was effective in improving school safety. Findings revealed that the pres-ence of a GSA, participation in a GSA, and perceived GSA effectiveness in promotingschool safety were differentially associated with young adult well-being and, in somecases, buffered the negative association between LGBT-specific school victimizationand well-being. Implications for future research and schools are discussed.
Contemporary lesbian, gay, and bisexual adolescents areknown to be disproportionately at risk for experiencingnegative psychosocial well-being and health problems.Evidence has increasingly shown a disproportionate riskamong transgender youth. Specifically, previous researchdocuments that sexual minority (e.g., those who reportsame-sex attractions or relationships) young people areat greater risk than heterosexuals for suicide ideationand attempts (for review, see Russell, 2003), depression(Russell, 2006), substance use (see Marshal et al., 2008),and lower self-esteem (Russell, 2006). Recent studiesusing the National Longitudinal Study of AdolescentHealth document that the disparate risks reported by thispopulation for suicidality and depression are particularlyheightened in the developmental period of adolescenceand dissipate in young adulthood for same-sex attractedmales (Russell & Toomey,2010; Ueno, 2010).These find-ing are of particular importance because they clarify forresearchers, policymakers, and individuals working withyoung people that a prime opportunity to potentiallyreduce risk for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender(LGBT) individuals is during adolescence.Adolescents spend a large portion of their time in theschool context. Thus, schools are a potential setting forpositive youth development and resiliency. Nonetheless,LGBT adolescents report high rates of verbal andphysical school-based victimization (e.g., Human Rights
The initial research for this study was supported by the CaliforniaEndowment. Support for the first author’s time spent on the revisionsof this article was provided by a National Institute of Mental HealthTraining Grant (T32 MH018387) to Russell B. Toomey. We thankthe many adolescents, families, and young adults who shared their livesand experiences with us.Address correspondence to Russell B. Toomey, PreventionResearch Center, Arizona State University, P.O. Box 876005, Tempe,AZ 85287-6005. E-mail: Russell.Toomey@asu.eduAPPLIED DEVELOPMENTAL SCIENCE,
15
(4), 175–185, 2011Copyright
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Taylor & Francis Group, LLCISSN: 1088-8691 print
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1532-480X onlineDOI: 10.1080/10888691.2011.607378
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Watch, 2001; Kosciw, Greytak, Diaz, & Bartkiewicz,2010) and report that their school environments areunsafe (Kosciw et al., 2010; O’Shaughnessy, Russell,Heck, Calhoun, & Laub, 2004; Russell & McGuire,2008). These negative school experiences have beenlinked to long-term negative mental health (e.g., Rivers,2001a) and health outcomes (e.g., Russell, Ryan,Toomey, Diaz, & Sanchez, 2011; Toomey, Ryan, Diaz,Card, & Russell, 2010), as well as concurrent academicoutcomes (e.g., Kosciw et al., 2010). The disparity inpositive school experiences for LGBT young peopleand the lack of information about positive developmentfor LGBT adolescents necessitates the need for researchon specific experiences of LGBT adolescents in positiveschool-based contexts, such as extracurricular activities.In fact, much like their heterosexual peers, these school-based activities may be a primary setting that fosterspositive youth development (e.g., Eccles & Barber,1999; Eccles, Barber, Stone, & Hunt, 2003; Fredricks &Eccles, 2006; Zaff, Moore, Papillo, & Williams, 2003).The goal of this article is to examine LGBT youngadult’s retrospective reports of various facets of their highschool’sGay–StraightAlliances (GSAs),a specificschool-based extracurricular activity
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club that focuses on LGBTstudents and their heterosexual allies. In this article weexamine associations of GSA presence, GSA partici-pation, and perceived GSA effectiveness in promotingschool safety in adolescence with psychosocial well-beingand educational attainment for LGBT young adults. Inthe next section, we review the literature on GSAs inschools. We then provide our results from an empiricalinvestigationof245youngadultsretrospectivelyreportingon GSA information during their high school years.
Gay–Straight Alliances: Presence and Membership
Despite the dearth of literature on positive developmentfor LGBT young people, a growing body of researchexamines the experiences of LGBT adolescents and theirstraight allies in one specific school-based extracurricu-lar activity: Gay–Straight Alliances (GSAs). GSAs arestudent-led, school-based clubs that aim to provide asafe place for LGBT students (Goodenow, Szalacha, &Westheimer, 2006; Human Rights Watch, 2001;O’Shaughnessy et al., 2004). In recent decades the num-ber of GSAs in schools has risen dramatically: accordingto the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network(GLSEN, 2010), there are over 4,000 GSAs registeredin the United States. Previous research has examinedthe associations between GSAs and student outcomesin two ways: the presence of a GSA in a student’s schooland membership of a student in the school’s GSA.Research suggests that the presence of a GSA canserve as a protective factor for LGBT adolescents, suchthat LGBT adolescents who report that their schoolhas a GSA tend to report more school safety and greaterwell-being (Goodenow et al., 2006; Lee, 2002; Kosciwet al., 2010; O’Shaughnessy et al., 2004; Walls,Freedenthal, & Wisneski, 2008; Walls, Kane, &Wisneski, 2010). In a study of over 7,000 LGBT students,Kosciw and colleagues found that the presence of a GSAwas associated with fewer homophobic comments frompeers, less victimization related to sexual orientationand gender expression, greater school safety and schoolconnectedness, and more instances of teacher inter-vention in homophobic harassment. Further, Walls andcolleagues (2010) found that the presence of a GSAwas associated with greater levels of school safety, fewerreports of missing school due to fear, and greater aware-ness of a safe adult in the school context. Finally, a fewstudies have documented that the presence of a GSA isassociated with reduced suicide risk for sexual minorityyouths (Goodenow et al., 2006; Walls et al., 2008).Beyond whether a school has a GSA or not, researchfinds that being a member of a GSA is associated withbetter academic achievement and interpersonal relation-ships (Lee, 2002; Mayberry, 2006), and more comfortwith one’s own sexual orientation (Lee, 2002) and per-sonal empowerment (Russell, Muraco, Subramaniam,& Laub, 2009). Walls and colleagues (2010) found thatGSAmembersreported higher grade point averages thannonmembers; however, they found no differencesbetween members and nonmembers on several key out-comes (i.e., school safety, absenteeism, weapon carrying,school harassment). Thus, the presence of a GSA seemsto have more of an impact on school climate issues, suchsafety at school or victimization levels, whereas member-ship in a GSA seems to have more impact on person-specific outcomes, such as personal empowerment oracademic achievement.A limitation of these studies is that they all examineGSApresenceormembershipwithconcurrentadolescentoutcomes and thereby do not examine whether the posi-tive influence of GSAs continues into young adulthood.That is, the unknown factor remains the associations of high school GSA presence and membership with psycho-social adjustment and educational attainment in youngadulthood. In this study, we seek to extend currentadolescent-limited findings about the associations amongGSA presence and participation and well-being by exam-ining psychosocial and educational outcomes in youngadulthood. Our measures of GSA presence and memberparticipation are retrospective which is also a limitation;however, this examination is the first to explore theassociations of GSA presence and participation withwell-being in young adulthood.Further, we add to the literature a new constructthat explores whether students’ perceptions of theirGSA’s effectiveness in promoting school safety areassociated with young adult psychosocial adjustment
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