Study: Gay-Straight Alliances Mitigate Depression, Promote College Success

A new study from the Family Acceptance Project published in the current issue of Applied Developmental Science details many important benefits for middle and high school students who have access to a gay-straight alliance (GSA) in their school. Of note are the ways LGBT students benefit from the mere presence of a GSA at their school, even if they do not actively participate. Though the study has a limited sample size, it demonstrates the significant impact GSAs can make:

  • Students at a school with a GSA were less likely to experience depression and more likely to have higher self-esteem.
  • Students at a school with a GSA were less likely to drop out and more likely to succeed in higher education.
  • Participation in a GSA was associated with fewer problems with substance abuse, depression, and lifetime suicide attempts.
  • Having a perception that a GSA effectively promoted school safety was associated with less depression, fewer problems with substance abuse, and greater college attainment.

The study also finds that GSAs have limitations. In school environments with high levels of LGBT victimization — including violence, verbal and physical harassment, and other forms of bullying — many of the GSAs’ benefits were effectively canceled out:

So, while GSAs make a very big difference for LGBT youth, they do not solve all problems. The study suggests that in addition to supporting the formation of GSAs, “school administrators and personnel should consider additional policies and programs that are associated with safer schools for LGBT students,” such as anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies.

Nevertheless, creating visibility and support for LGBT youth in schools clearly contributes to many positive outcomes. GLSEN found similar GSA benefits in its 2009 National School Climate Survey with adolescents. This new study from the Family Acceptance Project shows how the benefits of GSAs during adolescence affect LGBT young adults as well.