GSAFE at Hartford School makes lasting change for LGBT students

Manchester High School, a school in a central Connecticut town ten miles from Hartford, has a GSA club with a 15 year legacy.

Leah Nelson, MHS alumni, during her junior year in 1996-97 began to think about gay rights. This began because Leah was interested in equality and combating homophobia.

“I was invited to a roundtable of town leaders and some students toward the end of my junior year,” said Leah recently. “The plan was to talk about how to improve the school’s multicultural environment. I brought up the issue of homophobia and got no response — the conversation just moved on. My interest was piqued.”

Her interest in gay rights led her to push for a Gay-Straight Alliance at Manchester High School, one that she thought would help to combat the intolerance that LGBTQ students routinely faced.

The purpose of the club, Leah wrote in her original proposal, would be to foster open-mindedness and tolerance about an issue that was becoming increasingly visible in society.

Despite a detailed proposal, the GSA was eventually rejected by then-principal Jim Spafford in January 1998, on the grounds that it would be “disruptive to the learning process,” according to an article published by The Hartford Courant.

The GSA was officially approved in the spring of 1998. Leah graduated a few months later, leaving the leadership of the club in the hands of her sister Alexandra (Xan) Nelson who was a freshman at the time, Donna Cathey and Nila Marrone, the UConn advisor who later came on board.

Read more about Leah Nelson's journey in creating GSAFE and their current fight for equality and representation for all their students at MHS Redline.