GSA club denied controversial name change

The Girls for Social Awareness club have not been allowed to change their name to Gay/Straight Alliance.

by Helen Wheatley and Alex Davis

story by Helen Wheatley

The Girls for Social Awareness organization, GSA, has met with administration in an attempt to rename the club Gay/Straight Alliance, but was denied the change due to conflict with Catholic church teaching.
Upon its creation four years ago, Girls for Social Awareness wanted to be named Gay/Straight Alliance, but encountered the same issue with administration and church teaching. This year’s GSA club officers wanted the name change in an attempt to focus in on the club’s main idea of LGBT rights.

Asked about her reasoning for not allowing the name change, Dr. Elizabeth Baker, principal for student affairs, said the mission of the club was “well reflected in its current name”.

Emma Gustavson, Lily Levi and Lizy Hagan, GSA president, vice president and secretary, respectively, worked with Steven Karlin, GSA moderator, to set up a meeting with the administration discussing the name change. On Sept. 3, Karlin and the students met with Baker to present the idea of the name change.

“I know to some people it seems silly, like why does the name really matter … but it has to do with being hidden,” Gustavson said. “I know why [we can’t change the name], and I’m kind of okay with it … but it’s kind of like being back in the closet and hiding a part of you.”

photos by Alex Davis

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At the meeting, Gustavson presented a speech to Baker over changes in name and content covered in the organization. In years past, GSA has focused on social issues, whereas this year the club wants to exclusively focus on LGBT rights, according to Gustavson. Hagan recalls that Baker was concerned about following Catholic doctrine and cooperating with the diocese. Baker says her first reaction was “to listen and learn.”

“Both the club officers and Mr. Karlin were respectful and articulate about the mission of their club,” Baker said.

Gustavson and Hagan believed that with Pope Francis’s recent openness to homosexuality, GSA had a better chance of being called Gay/Straight Alliance.

“I had practiced this speech, I was passionate about it… and I was sure we were going to get [the name change],” Gustavson said. “But then we didn’t get it and it was just a little bit heartbreaking.”

The club officers and Karlin both agree that Baker was very respectful and willing to work with them to find common ground.

“[Baker] was very positive, but of course in a tight spot,” Karlin said. “She loved the initiative of the girls, but also has to think of our school’s donors and the PR ramifications in the Catholic community.”

While the future of LGBT rights in the Catholic church is uncertain, the GSA officers, Karlin and Baker agree that progress is being made in the equality of all persons, something that may translate to progress for Girls for Social Awareness in the future.

“Looking at the issues and reconciling how the LGBT community can in fact be a part of the Catholic community and vice versa will be the focus for the next few years,” Karlin said. “Once that becomes more widespread, the name change will naturally follow.”

Baker recalls a statement from the Catechism that states, “All persons must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.”

“With conversation and discernment and good will, the future is always changing,” Baker said.

The club officers believe themselves to have accepted the name ‘Girls for Social Awareness.’

“I know we tried our hardest, and we still get to do what we want… so I think I’ve mostly come to terms with it mostly because I’m so excited about what we get to do this year,” Gustavson said.