Rural View: GSAs in Unexpected Places

One of the most exciting developments of the past year or two is the rise of new Gay-Straight Alliances in small communities across the state. It seems that in rural Alaska the movement for LGBTQ equality is being led by young people who aren’t content to wait for things to get better in the future, or for the day that they can move away to a town with a larger LGBTQ community—they are making things better now! Here are a few highlights:

Homer Youth Community Gay-Straight Alliance: Homer, AK pop. 5,364

When founder Becky Puterbaugh’s efforts to start a Gay Straight Alliance at Homer High School were met with some resistance, she decided to carve out a safe space for LGBTQ youth outside of school. For almost a two years now, the entirely youth led HYC-GSA has met regularly in a space provided by the Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic, engaging in conversations and art projects about identity and increasing visibility and acceptance in their community. They even marched in Homer’s Fourth of July parade! This model of a community-based GSA is perfect for a town like Homer—where so many young people are home-schooled—and also makes it possible for middle-school students to participate, which is something adults have been trying with little result in much larger towns.

Kodiak High School Gay-Straight Alliance: Kodiak, AK pop. 6,130

I first became aware of the existence of a Gay-Straight Alliance at Kodiak High School at last year’s Pride Conference last October. With the help of a grant from Pride Foundation, Identity was able to bring in youth from all over the state to participate and network at the conference in Anchorage. The GSA at Kodiak High had just gotten off the ground at the beginning of the school year and attending Pride Conference gave student leaders like Ryan Branson useful ideas for how to strengthen their group and focus their mission. “Listening to how others overcame their issues, fought for their pride, and stood up against oppression really gave me hope,” Branson said about his conference experience. “Now in GSA, I feel that we should share with each other and build trust so we can work together as one to stomp out oppression.”

Mt. Edgecumbe High School Gay-Straight Alliance: Sitka, AK pop. 8,889

Joseph Marks, one of the founders of Mt. Edgecumbe’s GSA, at last month’s ACLU Liberty Awards where he was awarded a Student Activist Scholarship


Mt. Edgecumbe High School is a small, state-run boarding school primarily (but not exclusively) serving Alaska Native students from the Bush as well as more populous areas like Fairbanks, Anchorage, Eagle River, and Kenai. At the beginning of this school year, seniors Joseph Marks and Sara Martinchik enlisted the help of supportive teachers and community members to organize a Gay-Straight Alliance at Mt. Edgecumbe and in just a couple of months of operation, they have already hosted a successful school dance, organized a Free Hugs Day in correlation with National Coming Out Day, and are planning on doing a Day of Silence activity this spring.

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