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Gay-Straight Alliance Goes City-wide

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Tom Wyse, faculty adviser for Gay-Straight Alliance groups in two Pittsburgh Public high schools, says a new meeting spot in Carnegie Library's Oakland branch is the start of a community-wide Alliance.

The Carnegie's dedicated teen room will become the "Safe and Respectful Space" every Wednesday after school, beginning with a post-Valentine's Day ice-cream social. The space was Wyse's suggestion: He says it's necessary, pointing to January's Harris poll that showed sexual orientation was the second-most common reason for bullying in schools, after appearance or size. Teens in middle or high school who identified as gay were three times as likely to report bullying as their straight peers.

Wyse is also the city's co-chair for the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network. For the past several years, the Network has helped run a "Safe and Respectful Prom" for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, queer, questioning and allied -- or LGBTQ -- youth. Surveying 85 of the 250 people in attendance last May, the Network found that 30 percent said their high school climate wasn't safe for all students. The survey also found that schools with Alliances or a teacher who was out helped LGBTQ students do better academically and socially.

Joseph Wilks, teen-services specialist at Carnegie Library, hopes the space -- with its couches, zines, computers and video games, somewhat isolated in the back of library's main floor -- will be a spot for kids to relax, as well as to find useful resources for dealing with LGBTQ issues. "Pittsburgh has a very strong LGBTQ community," he says, "and teens are a very underserved population and are often invisible."

            Wyse isn't certain what activities the space will host. In the future, it may offer speakers. It may even offer one activity whose very name makes Wyse hesitate. "This might drive them away," he says, but then lets the feared word out anyway: "Tutors."

Safe and Respectful Space, Carnegie Library, Oakland, Wednesdays, 4-6 p.m. beginning with the Ice Cream Valentine's Party for LGBTQ Youth and Allies, Wed., Feb 15, 4 p.m.

Contact safe&respectfulspace@glsenpgh.org or phone 412-361-6996; see www.glsen.org and www.carnegielibrary.org.

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