Giancarlo Mossi organizes a GSA Summit in Dallas so other students can have the lifesaving resource he never did
DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
Giancarlo Mossi said that after spending time in hospitals and institutions for destructive behavior such as cutting, the day he attended a Youth First Texas meeting in Collin County was the happiest day of his life.
Mossi believes he might not have attempted suicide if his high school had a Gay Straight Alliance where he could have talked to other students. He credits a Plano police officer with saving his life.
As a child, Mossi was raped and abused. By the time he reached high school, he said he couldn’t take it anymore and began “cutting,” making large gashes in his arms. He was hospitalized several times.
After one suicide attempt, the police officer handed him a card from the Youth First Texas.
“You’re like me, aren’t you?” Mossi asked the officer. The officer said he couldn’t answer but flashed a big grin.
In the hospital, a licensed therapist outed Mossi to his mother and recommended “reparative therapy” to make him straight. When it was time for him to be released, his mother refused to pick him up.
Although Mossi has since reconciled with his mother, he lives with a gay couple who took him into their home.
Mossi graduated from Plano Senior High School. He recently began acting classes and has a new job. He knows not every LGBT student can get to the YFT centers in Dallas and Collin County, so he wants students in high schools throughout North Texas to have access to Gay Straight Alliance clubs on their own campuses. And he wants existing GSAs to flourish.
To help accomplish his goal, Mossi is coordinating a GSA summit at YFT in Dallas on Feb. 4.
Andy Marra, a spokesman for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, said there were at least 360 GSAs in Texas when the last national survey was taken in 2009. GLSEN is in the process of conducting a new national count.
GSAs are especially important in a conservative state like Texas where, according to GLSEN, 88 percent of students who identify as gay or lesbian have been verbally harassed, 46 percent physically harassed and 23 percent assaulted.
Equality Texas Executive Director Dennis Coleman said GSAs let LGBT kids know they’re not alone.
“GSAs give them a support system, a safe place to be,” Coleman said. “Not just LGBT kids but their friends. And if they’re not getting support at home, they have a group they can turn to.”
But Mossi said starting GSAs in some schools isn’t as easy as it should be.
When he was in 10th grade at Vines High School in Plano, he spoke to administrators about starting one there. The principal told him he’d need a faculty sponsor.
Mossi said finding a sponsor can be tricky in a school whose principal opposes having a GSA. Teachers without tenure are afraid of losing their jobs. Others don’t want to make waves. And some are afraid that if they sponsor a GSA, teachers, parents and students will assume they’re gay.
But Mossi broached the subject with a number of teachers and found one willing to sponsor the group. So he proudly went back to the principal with the name.
The principal told him he would need 100 signatures from students stating they wanted to have such a group in their school. Mossi collected the 100 signatures and presented them to the principal. That’s when the principal told him it was too late in the year to start a new club and he’d have to wait for the next year. The principal knew Mossi would be leaving Vines to attend Plano Senior High for his last two years of school.
By the time he got to Plano Senior High, Mossi was active at Youth First Texas, where he made many new friends, and devoted his time to performing with Dallas PUMP!, a youth chorale.
Although Mossi’s experience wasn’t unusual, some schools are more supportive of GSAs.
Dawson Ray said when he and his friend Shelby Friedman formed a GSA last year at Greenhill School, a private K-12 school in Addison, they met with “zero controversy.”
He said two teachers immediately agreed to sponsor the group and the only question the administration had was “when we’d meet and what room we wanted.”
He said the group is called True Colors because the school has a rule against student groups having affiliations with national organizations. But he said True Colors is regularly referred to as the GSA.
Each week, 50 to 60 students — more than 10 percent of the 440 high students at Greenhill — attend the GSA meeting.
He said the group holds discussions on various topics, participates in events such as the National Day of Silence and brings in speakers. When British rugby star Ben Cohen was in Dallas for gay Pride Week last year, he spoke to the Greenhill GSA. Earlier this week Cohen sent the group a check for $2,500 for club activities.
Truett Davis attends Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in downtown Dallas. He said his GSA has about 40 to 50 members and was already in existence when he came to the school.
Davis said his group sets up booths at school activities. At one, the GSA officiated mock weddings and had students sign a petition for marriage equality that was sent to Congress.
Although Booker T. is considered a safe school for LGBT students, Davis said some students’ families aren’t accepting and the club is a place for those students to talk about their situation.
Both Davis and Ray are planning to attend next week’s GSA Summit at YFT.
“I hope to get some programming ideas,” Davis said.
Ray agreed. “I want to see what other GSAs in the area are doing,” he said. “What problems they face. Offer suggestions to us.”
While some students face little resistance in forming GSAs, other schools have openly opposed allowing the clubs on campus. Under federal law, that’s illegal.
The federal Equal Access Act passed in 1984 stipulates that any public secondary school that allows non-curriculum-related clubs to meet on campus cannot discriminate due to the content of the proposed discussions. To get around this, some schools have gone so far as to disband non-curriculum-related clubs, from the chess club to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Some administrators don’t want the word “gay” used in a school group name — sometimes out of their own prejudice, sometimes out of fear of parent or community reaction. They require students to change the names of GSAs to a euphemism such the Tolerance Club. But this is also against the law. (Greenhill is a private school, so the Equal Access Act doesn’t apply.)
At R.L. Turner High School in Farmers Branch, students formed a GSA in April 2011. While they encountered no resistance from the school district, Farmers Branch Mayor Tim O’Hare attacked the group on Twitter saying, “Friday, R.L. Turner H.S. Hosts 1st meeting of the RLT Gay-Straight Alliance an org. that promotes homosexuality and transgender lifestyles,” and “To our children. It is sponsored by a teacher at Turner. Parents of CFB kids and members of the community: what do you plan to do about it?”
Although a mayor in Texas has no power over an independent school district, vocal opposition from an elected official can be daunting for a group of high school students.
But the Carrollton-Farmers Branch School District did respond to the mayor and made it clear what they planned to do about the GSA — they planned to support it. Angela Shelley, a CFBISD spokeswoman, told Dallas Voice at the time that the group had already met three times and that it wasn’t the district’s first GSA.
But she said, “The GSA met all the requirements, they have a great mission and a constitution, and they’re an active group.”
And she said that despite the mayor’s protests the district didn’t want to become another Flour Bluff. Earlier in the school year, when a GSA formed in Flour Bluff, a school district in Corpus Christi, it made national news.
When 17-year-old student Bianca “Nikki” Peet tried to start the GSA, the district denied her application. To keep the group from meeting, Superintendent Julia Carbajal announced she would disband all extracurricular clubs.
Hundreds of pro-LGBT protesters gathered at the school.
After the American Civil Liberties Union intervened, threatening to file suit against the district, the superintendent relented and allowed the group to form. The faculty sponsor backed out, however. Instead, the principal “monitored” the meetings and the ACLU promised to monitor the situation.
But once the group began meeting, there was little to monitor. Gay and straight students met and discussed issues of interest to them.
In Keller, a Facebook group appeared in October 2011 called Abolish the GSA, Gay-Straight Alliance, at Keller High School.
When the school district learned about the Facebook group, it issued a statement that said, “Keller ISD prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, national origin, disability, or any other basis prohibited by law.”
But discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity isn’t prohibited by law.
The founder of the Facebook group wrote that it was not intended to be a hate group and when he saw the reaction to it, he took it down. But he vowed to continue battling the GSA unless a conservative, straight group was also formed. Had he been serious about it, nothing would have stopped his group from finding a sponsor and petitioning the school.
As a result of the controversy, the Keller GSA grew and had to move from a classroom to a lecture hall to accommodate all of the students who wanted to show support or participate.
Meanwhile, Mossi is on a one-person campaign to bring students together for the Feb. 4 meeting. He has contacted restaurants and coffee shops about providing lunch, coffee and snacks. He pulled together a list of contacts and made calls. He sent fliers to schools he knows have GSAs. He contacted the media to help spread the word. And he researched topics and put together curricula to make the Summit a worthwhile meeting.
He said he expects about 40 to 50 students, representing almost as many GSAs across North Texas, to attend. Students who would like to participate don’t have to already belong to a GSA. He said he hopes some teens who attend have no clubs in their schools and will go back and form one.
Feb. 4, 10 a.m.–3 p.m.
Youth First Texas
3918 Harry Hines Blvd.
To register, contact
HOW TO START A GSA
1. Follow Guidelines
Establish a GSA the same way you would establish any other group or club. Look in your Student Handbook for your school’s rules. This may include getting permission from an administrator or writing a constitution.
2. Find a Faculty Advisor
Find a teacher or staff member whom you think would be supportive or who has already shown themselves to be an ally around sexual orientation issues. It could be a teacher, counselor, nurse or librarian.
3. Inform Administration of Your Plans
Tell administrators what you are doing right away. It can be very helpful to have them on your side. They can work as liaisons to teachers, parents, community members and the school board. If an administrator opposes the GSA, inform them that forming a GSA club is protected under the Federal Equal Access Act.
4. Inform Guidance Counselors and Social Workers About The Group
These individuals may know students who would be interested in attending the group.
5. Pick a Meeting Place
You may want to find a meeting place which is off the beaten track at school and offers some level of privacy.
Figure out the best way to advertise at your school. It may be a combination of your school bulletin, flyers and word-of-mouth. If your flyers are defaced or torn down, do not be discouraged. Keep putting them back up. Eventually, whomever is tearing them down will give up. Besides, advertising for your group and having words up such as “gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or questioning” or “end homophobia” can be part of educating the school and can actually make other students feel safer — even if they never attend a single meeting.
7. Get Food
This one is kind of obvious. People always come to meetings when you provide food!
8. Hold Your Meeting
You may want to start out with a discussion about why people feel having this group is important. You can also brainstorm things your club would like to do this year.
9. Establish Ground Rules
Many groups have ground rules in order to insure that group discussions are safe, confidential and respectful. Many groups have a ground rule that no assumptions or labels are used about a group member’s sexual orientation. This can help make straight allies feel comfortable about attending the club.
10. Plan For The Future
Develop an action plan. Brainstorm activities. Set goals for what you want to work towards. Contact Gay-Straight Alliance Network in order to get connected to other GSAs, get supported, and learn about what else is going on in the community.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 27, 2012.