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The GSA at 30 Now a presence in schools across North America and the world, the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) had no model when it began 30 years ago at Concord Academy. During a yearlong celebration of CA’s foundational role in LGBTQ history, we look back at the GSA’s genesis.

Kevin Jennings will always remember Thursday, November 10, 1988. It was the day of his chapel talk, the day he, a young history teacher at the time, came out at CA. Jennings went on to found GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network), the leading organization working to create safe and inclusive schools for LGBTQ youth. A prominent author, educator, and administrator, notably in the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools during the Obama administration, Jennings now directs the Tenement Museum in New York, which educates Americans about the role of immigrants in building the nation. Throughout his career, he has worked to improve life for the marginalized and persecuted. “My chapel was a catalyst for the GSA,” he says. “I think my coming out created the space and gave the permission for LGBT topics to be addressed more directly at CA.” What follows is the story of one of the first Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) and of the foundational role of Concord Academy in the LGBTQ youth movement. Allyship animated the GSA from the start. Days after Jennings’ chapel, a freshman came to his office wanting to start a student club to fight homophobia. Jennings was surprised; he didn’t know Meredith Sterling ’92, who says she was “pretty visibly straight.” She was not open about the fact that her mother was a lesbian, and she was overhearing comments that bothered her. “For me, it was about being absolutely invisible,” she says. “I felt complicit. I wanted people to say this stuff to my face so I could

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“We were breaking new ground. It’s hard for people who weren’t alive then to understand how different things were 30 years ago.” K E V I N J E N N I N GS Former CA history teacher and founder of GLSEN

stand up and say, ‘I’m not part of this.’” Though it hadn’t crossed his mind that someone straight could feel that passionately about inequality, Jennings saw the depth of Sterling’s commitment, recruited straight faculty to join them, and the GSA was formed. There were no models to draw on. “It was lonely,” Jennings says. “We were breaking new ground. It’s hard for people who weren’t alive then to understand how different things were 30 years ago.” In 1988, only one state,

Wisconsin, banned discrimination based on sexual orientation. Just 15 years after the American Psychological Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses, same-sex relationships were still criminalized in a third of the United States. In mainstream media, gay people were stereotyped as sexual predators and feared as carriers of disease. “In some ways, GSAs had their moment then because older gays were dying or taking care of the dying,” says S. Bear Bergman ’92, among the first CA students involved in the GSA. “I had some support from older LGBT people for coming out when I was 16, but lots of my peers didn’t. That generation of would-be mentors was embroiled in the AIDS crisis.” The GSA acted as a support group. “It was valuable to see where others stood,” Bergman says. “The big difference, for a teenager, was between thinking everything would probably be fine and seeing that everything would be fine.” He describes CA at the time as progressive, with a “strong mandate around social justice.” As a minority Jewish kid, though, he was used to using humor and a theatrical streak to explain religious holidays. When he encountered opinions about LGBTQ people based in ignorance, he “pivoted without much difficulty to education around queer stuff,” he says. As a student, Bergman testified before the state legislature on behalf of the Massachusetts Safe Schools Program, the first of its kind. Now an author, educator, and performer, as well as the founder of an LGBTQ-positive children’s book publishing company,

C O N C O R D ACA D E M Y M AGA Z I N E

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Profile for Concord Academy

CA Magazine Fall 2018 Issue  

In the fall 2018 CA Magazine, the focus is on passion — for art, for change, and for shaping the future of Concord Academy. This issue intro...

CA Magazine Fall 2018 Issue  

In the fall 2018 CA Magazine, the focus is on passion — for art, for change, and for shaping the future of Concord Academy. This issue intro...

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