The Protective Role of Gay–Straight Alliances for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Questioning Students: A Prospective Analysis

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Prior studies show a strong association between gay–straight alliances (GSAs) and the well-being and safety of sexual minority students at school. However, nearly all existing literature has relied on cross-sectional data. Using data from the first 2 panels of a multisite longitudinal study on risk and protective factors for suicide among lesbian, gay, bisexual, and questioning (LGBQ) youth in 3 U.S. cities, we examined the influence of presence of and participation in a GSA on perceptions of safety at school, homophobic bullying experiences, and psychosocial adjustment (depression and self-esteem) in 327 LGBQ students across 2 school years. LGBQ students who had GSAs in their schools or were members of GSAs in the prior year showed no differences in psychological adjustment, but they reported perceptions of more school safety and less homophobic bullying in the following school year. Further, changes in GSA presence (gaining a GSA) and changes in participation (from nonparticipation to participation) were independently associated with stronger perceived safety in the subsequent school year. This study provides the first prospective evidence of the lasting positive role of GSAs for high school students, and documents that changes in GSA presence and participation are associated with safety at school. Education policy and practice implications are discussed.

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