Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Thesis


Educational Studies


College of Education

First Advisor

Susan Schramm-Pate


This phenomenological, ethnographic, collective case study examined the effectiveness of Gay-Straight Alliances in public high schools in South Carolina in reducing or eradicating aggression and bullying towards LGBTQ students through the lenses of both queer and critical theories within a framework of social justice. The current study investigated the perceptions of experts and GSA faculty advisors regarding the success of the clubs in reducing or eliminating bullying in South Carolina high schools. The investigation stemmed from the perceived discrepancy between literature on GSAs, which reports that the clubs contribute to a more positive school climate, positive effects on LGBTQ youth, and to fewer instances of homophobic aggression, and results from the GLSEN National School Climate survey, which indicates that this aggression still occurs. Four cases were created for the study based on three geographic regions of South Carolina, and one expert case. Case sub-units included faculty advisors from suburban high schools, with an uneven distribution of participants from the suburbs of the capital city. Qualitative data were collected from GSA faculty advisors in South Carolina, as well as experts in the field of LGBTQ issues, through qualitative questionnaires, and interviews using a constant, comparative method in both within and cross-case analysis to gain insight into their close working perspectives on the clubs’ success or lack thereof, as well as shed light on issues that are currently affecting LGBTQ youth in South Carolina high schools. Factors that could influence advisors in their roles included gender, identity or sexual orientation, personal experiences, and geography. Results show that high

schools with GSAs report fewer instances of bullying and more accepting school climates. By examining the perspectives of experts and faculty GSA advisors, the study found that in schools with a GSA, bullying is, indeed, reduced. GSAs, however, do not guarantee a supporting environment; most advisors report that negative speech and insults are common. Findings were consistent with prior studies and literature on GSAs, and the needs of LGBTQ young people, but the challenge extends to LGBTQ advisors, who must often deal with similar problems of discrimination and the possibility of losing their job. Other findings of the study indicate that homophobic attitudes are entrenched in South Carolina, and are the cause for many of the challenges that are faced daily by LGBTQ youth and advisors, providing advocates many opportunities to continue to work for positive change. Advisors in South Carolina high schools call for more inclusive curriculum, especially with sexual education, and comprehensive protection through official policies. The perceived discrepancy between GSA literature and current statistics on bullying in South Carolina was not resolved, and further investigation is suggested to discover the source of the negative data, and if they are emerging from high schools that are not served by a GSA.

GSAs are considered a necessary part of providing support to these students, and function in different ways to meet their needs. They are also considered to provide recognition and a collective face that sends a message to schools that these young people are accepted and supported. The GSA does not solve the challenges faced by LGBTQ youth, but the clubs make a difference in the lives of students and the culture of the schools. GSAs are considered to be successful in reducing bullying by simply existing, but depending on the type of club, its activity and visibility, student leadership, and member needs, their contributions to fewer instances of bullying may be stronger.

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