You remember that old Gay-Straight Alliance club at your high school? It turns out it might have saved some lives. A new study says that high schools with GSAs have a lower risk for student suicides than schools that don't. The study, which looked at school districts in British Columbia, Canada and analyzed data from a total of 21,708 students, found a that benefits of a Gay-Straight alliance include a reduced rate of suicidal thoughts in both gay and straight students.
The study was funded by the Canadian Institute of Health Research and investigated whether or not school policies really were effective in fighting discrimination and suicidal thoughts among the student population. And their findings would suggest there definitely is. In schools where a GSA had been present for three or more years, homophobic discrimination was significantly reduced and suicidal thoughts among lesbian, gay, and bisexual students decreased by more than half. Somewhat surprisingly, suicide attempts by heterosexual boys also decreased by half in schools with an established GSA.
“We know that LGBTQ students are at higher risk for suicide, in part because they are more often targeted for bullying and discrimination,” says Elizabeth Saewyc, lead author of the study. “But heterosexual students can also be the target of homophobic bullying. When policies and supportive programs like GSAs are in place long enough to change the environment of the school, it’s better for students’ mental health, no matter what their orientation.”
In a world where the suicide rate among LGBT students is appalling, it's encouraging to know that seemingly small steps can make such a big difference. Of course, it's hard to say that just starting a GSA will automatically bring about these kinds of amazing benefits – schools with active GSAs are probably more likely to be less homophobic anyway, meaning not all of the difference between schools with and without GSAs can be directly attributed to the clubs themselves. But it's also likely that having a Gay-Straight Alliance really does have an impact on the culture of school, or at the very least gives bullied students a source of support and solidarity.
The report also found that schools with anti-homophobic policies also saw benefits for gay, lesbian, and bisexual students, along with heterosexual boys. There's no data from this study specifically regarding transgender students. You can read the whole study here. If it's not enough to make you wish you'd started a GSA, nothing ever will be.