The GSA: empowering diversity

Heads of GSA Tripp Ronan, Jai Bonaparte, Bobby Popky (all ’24) – Christopher Schwarting ’24

The Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) is an affinity group for students and teachers who either identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community or as allies, united against homophobia and transphobia. The GSA meets every Friday in a classroom of one of its faculty advisors to discuss current events and issues within the school or world that affect LGBTQ+ individuals. 

During a meeting early in the year, the club discovered Haverford is one of the only all-boys private schools with an active GSA. St. Albans, the school where Mr. Castertano was previously Assistant Head of School, has an active GSA as well.  

History teacher Dr. Bridget Gurtler, who teaches the history elective The History of Science, Sex, and Culture* while also leading the Human Relationships Seminar and advising the GSA, is familiar with the LGBTQ+ experience. She brings her knowledge of gay history and involvement with the LGBTQ+ community at Haverford.

“We have a wonderful cadre of faculty that are supporting the group. It is a wonderful space in which to build community and discuss issues that are important to LGBTQ+ students and faculty,” Dr. Gurtler said. 

History Department Chair and US History* teacher Ms. Hannah Turlish makes LGBTQ+ students feel safe in her room to voice their opinions whether in class or in individual conversations. 

“I think I’ve been part of the GSA for about five or six years, both with virtual Zoom and back in person,” Ms. Turlish said. “Once Mr. Jobs moved on to Abington Friends, I guess I’ve become more of a lead advisor as faculty with Dr. Gurtler. I really want it to be a student-run group because I think that [the student leaders] are so skilled at that in terms of setting agendas and discussion plans, etc. I also hope that I can serve as a guide for conversation in ways to problem-solve as opposed to simply talking about problems.”

“GSA means community. Haverford’s GSA at its forefront is a safe space. A space where everyone should feel they can express any opinions or concerns free of judgment.”

Jai Bonaparte

Anyone with an open mind is welcome to join a meeting and take part in discussions to express their emotions and opinions on any given topic. Topics covered in past meetings this year include the overturn of Roe v. Wade, the “Don’t Say Gay” Bill, the Respect for Marriage Act, the rise of Christian nationalism, and the increased amount of government-sponsored transphobia. The GSA also aims to boost representation of LGBTQ+ identities within the school. 

In previous years, the Diversity Alliance has worked with DEI Head Ms. Rhonda Brown to introduce more books written by LGBTQ+ authors and stories that represent LGBTQ+ identity in the libraries.

After the events of last year, the GSA has focused on rebranding itself. New GSA leaders, Fifth Formers Jai Bonaparte and Bobby Popky, stress the importance of opening up the club to all members of the Haverford brotherhood and its community.

“Bobby and I crafted a long list of goals to achieve within the 2022-2023 school year,” Bonaparte said. “So far, meetings have been made more widely accessible, and new leadership has been selected. We have also hosted multiple successful group discussions and executed a joint movie night with Agnes Irwin and Baldwin’s GSA programs. Our number-one goal was to build a community, and that we have done both in and outside of Haverford’s circle. Hosting more events is still on our radar, but for the first semester we found it necessary to prioritize regaining that sense of community.” 

The club started thinking about ways to improve the group as early as the summer, hoping that the GSA would become a space for more students in the community and grow its reach.

“One thing that was extremely important to us was a strict open-door policy,” Bonaparte said. “Since the beginning, we have both made it clear that anyone interested in sitting in on a conversation is more than welcome, and so far, this has been more than successful. This year the GSA has garnered more returning members than recorded in previous years. For that, we are incredibly grateful.”

Furthermore, having a GSA provides an opportunity to hear voices and opinions that are often not showcased at the school. Any and all minds are welcomed.

“GSA means community. Haverford’s GSA at its forefront is a safe space. A space where everyone should feel they can express any opinions or concerns free of judgment. It is fundamental that within GSA a trustworthy community is present,” Bonaparte said. “A stable community is the foundation GSA stands on.”

Some students feel that the majority of conversations at school revolve around heteronormative topics. When gay issues are brought up in class, they are sometimes met with jokes or an awkward silence. Homophobia at school may not directly jump out at you, but many note that it exists behind closed doors, in whispers down the hallways, or in the occasional ‘f-slur’ heard in the locker room. For the majority of the upper school, the first public mention of gayness came in an assembly in middle school about the different diversity groups at the school. After leaving Ball Auditorium and walking back to Crosman Hall, one might recall hearing gay jokes along with other insults to the stereotypically gay male speaker. The GSA exists to bring awareness to the homophobia within the school and curtail the spread of it. 

“The community Haverford has managed to create over the years for its students and faculty is quite exceptional. The school creates tight-knit bonds between its members, sometimes withstanding even the more difficult challenges and often lasting lifetimes,” Bonaparte said. “Within these communities, many share similar views and ideologies. That is something we’d like to see change. Non-heteronormative conversations around gender, sexuality, and identity are too often met with blank stares and whispers, and more often are met with negative comments and the spread of misinformation. That is a problem. We hope that in due time, as the GSA continues to grow, changes in the general education of LGBTQ+ matters at Haverford can grow with it.”

As the GSA is relatively new, members believe only three things can be said about it: it’s here, it’s LGBTQ+, and it’s not going anywhere—gay people deserve to be seen and heard at this school. 

“We hope that one day the GSA can be something more than what most students would give a passing glance to, and we hope that in the future, the GSA will help to remove the stigma around ideas of LGBTQ+ topics at Haverford,” Bonaparte said.

The Haverford GSA hosts community events with other local private schools such as Agnes Irwin, Baldwin, and sometimes Shipley. These events include movie nights and group discussions over pizza dinners. 

“We’re all different, and that’s what makes us so good at everything. Allowing LGBTQ+ students to be themselves is very important, [and] Haverford has to do a better job at embracing our differences in order for us to continue down a path of success.”

Student body president Luka sekulic ’23

“Bringing the several LGBTQ+ groups from across the district allows for new connections and friendships with fellow LGBT members. Bringing people together this way helps produce more meaningful conversations within the community,” Atlas Viroslav ’25 Head Baldwin’s GSA Spectrum said. “For example, in October, GSA, Compass, and Spectrum joined in watching Rocky Horror Picture Show with a group discussion afterwards. This was incredibly helpful not only for the heads, but members of these LGBTQ+ clubs to socialize and get to know people from similar groups and different schools.” 

Likewise, Natalie Suplick ’25, Head of Agnes Irwin’s GSA Compass said, “I strongly believe it’s important to have intercommunication, because meeting other people outside of school increases the support you have inside and outside of school. I feel that it is especially important for people who go to single-sex schools to meet others who can offer diverse opinions and views…Just because you go to an all-girls school doesn’t mean everyone there identifies as a girl.” 

Haverford has a large gay student population, some of whom may be closeted, and others who are out. Members of the GSA come from all different backgrounds in terms of race, religion, home life, or socioeconomic status. All these factors contribute to a unique LGBTQ+ experience that shapes character and how one views the world they grow up in. 

Joining the GSA doesn’t all of the sudden make you gay, nor does it emasculate you. In fact, it shows that you care. It provides a support system for LGBTQ+ kids who may not feel like the majority of their peers. 

Student Body President, Luka Sekulić, is not part of the GSA, but he is still an ally.

“Not everybody is the same, and that’s the beauty of Haverford,” Sekulić said. “We’re all different, and that’s what makes us so good at everything. Allowing LGBTQ+ students to be themselves is very important, [and] Haverford has to do a better job at embracing our differences in order for us to continue down a path of success.”