For more than a decade, the Gay Straight Alliance at has been working to educate the student body and faculty on the importance of tolerance in the realm of sexual orientation.
David Hoffman, an educational technologist for the high school, has worked as a faculty sponsor for the organization for four years.
“It’s a cause I’m interested in," he said. "There’s a lot of things that go on, bullying and that sort of thing. I see the word 'fag' used and thrown around. At some time, there might not be a need for a group like this, but at this point, it’s a place for some kids to go and feel safe.”
The Gay Straight Alliance promotes awareness of gay and lesbian issues for students at Clayton High School. It originated in the early 1990s and includes both gay and straight students. Hoffman said half of its members are straight.
“Many straight people have friends and relatives that are gay,” Hoffman said. “Other straight people simply have a mindset that this is a cause they need to support.”
The organization seeks to raise awareness among Clayton students and faculty by disseminating information. The club sponsors speaking seminars. Past speakers have included Shane Cohn, an openly gay St. Louis city alderman, and Nathan Phelps, the son of Westboro Baptist Church preacher Fred Phelps.
The Gay Straight Alliance also produces public service announcements for the high school's television channel. Hoffman recalls a quiet response after one of the announcements, in contrast to negative feedback he might have received in the past.
“It kind of surprised me, because it would have been different a few years back,” he said.
Hoffman said the alliance also has been involved in district policy on gay and lesbian issues. Last year, it pushed for an anti-discrimination policy for faculty members in the district, . Approximately 40 kids belong to the Gay Straight Alliance, Hoffman said.
“The numbers have grown,” Hoffman said. “When I took over four years ago, sometimes we would have three or four kids at a meeting. Now we usually have 20 or more. I think it’s become more accepted as we become more visible.”
Hoffman said the organization places gay advocacy signs around the school. He also said that the signs used to be the subject of vandalism but that such activity is becoming less common.
Members of the Gay Straight Alliance are trying to interest the NOH8 Campaign, a nationwide campaign against discrimation toward the gay and lesbian community, in holding an event at Clayton High School.
Andrea Hermann, a senior at the high school, serves as vice president of the Gay Straight Alliance. Hermann said her family's values influenced her decision to become involved in the club.
“I grew up in a family that emphasized the acceptance of others,” Hermann stated in an email interview. “My parents made it clear to me that no matter what my sexual orientation was that they would support me, but as I grew older I realized that not all families functioned in the same way. I’m extremely thankful for my parents’ unconditional acceptance; however, I always felt somewhat guilty that I was given such a great support system, but I was born straight.
"I felt awful that there were kids being raised in homes where they were shunned for no good reason. So I figured by joining the Gay Straight Alliance, that I could act as a support system that those kids really needed."
Clayton junior Seth Lewis joined the Gay Straight Alliance after coming out as openly gay.
“My parents were very supportive of my sexual identity and continue to support me to this day,” Lewis stated in an email interview. “Unfortunately, with a lot of youth this may not the case. Even to this day, high school is a tough time for youth who are struggling with their sexual identity.”
After coming out, Lewis starting attending meetings of Growing American Youth, St. Louis’ only major support group for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender teens, Lewis stated. He started attending Gay Straight Alliance meetings after he became involved with Growing American Youth.
“I wanted to be a part of my own school’s effort to include others and create a safe place,” he stated. “I think it’s crucial for all high schools to have some sort of Gay Straight Alliance to break down stereotypes and show students there’s a place where they can be themselves."