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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — High school can be a lonely, confusing and sometimes brutal experience for anyone, and perhaps especially for gay teens.

That’s something Kubasaki High School senior Michael Santivasci, 17, hopes the Gay Straight Alliance club he helped establish in December will prevent at his school.

"I had witnessed people being harassed for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender), and I had experienced it" at stateside schools, Santivasci said.

What he hadn’t seen, he said, was people stand up against the harassment.

When California passed Proposition 8 in November, banning same-sex marriage, Santivasci decided he wanted to take a stand. With the help of school counselor David Young, he spearheaded Kubasaki’s GSA club.

He was "a little nervous" about starting a GSA in such a conservative community as a Marine base, Santivasci said.

"There is still a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy, but it doesn’t apply to students," Young said. "There are thousands and thousands of LGBT students in America. Our schools just don’t provide that much opportunity for them, if they even acknowledge they exist."

Even at Kubasaki, there is subtle "heterosexual bias in the classrooms," Santivasci said, adding that the most pervasive is the assumption that everyone is heterosexual.

Santivasci said the GSA club hopes that through education they can change attitudes and give non-heterosexual students a forum to be heard.

"They’re coming to a school where they can be safe and confident, where they don’t have to be afraid of who they are," he said of the club’s goal.

Young said club members have been surprised at the support they have received from Kubasaki’s staff and parents.

After three months, the group has about 10 members, and many teachers allow them to hang educational posters in the classrooms, Santivasci said.

Kubasaki High School Principal Steven Sanchez expressed admiration for what GSA members are doing to challenge intolerance.

"I think the world would be a better place if all people had a greater understanding of each other, and this group of students is working to make that happen," he said.

However, the alliance has felt some resistance.

"We’ve had posters torn down and derogatory things written on them," Santivasci said

"I’ve had people throw flyers back in my face," said freshman Cee Kosmoski, 14, the group’s vice president. "One time, a parent threw it back and said, ‘No.’ "

"A lot of students want to join, and parents stop them because they don’t support GSA," Santivasci said.

Before deciding not to support the GSA club, Santivasci said, parents should know the group has no political agenda and that it’s for anyone — regardless of sexuality — who wants to promote tolerance.

GSA members want the school to be "a better place for everyone," Santivasci said.


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