Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

Clinical Psychology

Department or School/College

Department of Psychology

Committee Chair

Bryan N. Cochran

Commitee Members

Greg Machek, Jennifer S. Robohm, Casey Charles


Gay-Straight Alliances, Mental Health, Schools, Sexual Minority Youth, Substance Use, Victimization


University of Montana


Sexual minority youth have been found to be at-risk for engaging in negative health behaviors and for experiencing at-school victimization (Bontempo & D’Augelli, 2002). Specific benefits of attending a high school with a gay-straight alliance (GSA) have recently been published (e.g., fewer suicide attempts; Goodenow, Szalacha, & Westheimer, 2006). However, it is unclear whether GSAs have any impact on substance use behaviors. The purpose of this study was to examine the impact of attending a school with a GSA on sexual minority youths’ high school experiences, mental health, and substance use behaviors. A total of 103 heterosexual and 145 sexual minority participants were recruited for this study. Analyses of covariance (ANCOVA) were used to compare sexual minority youth who attended a high school with a GSA (GSA+), sexual minority youth who did not attend a high school with a GSA (GSA-), and heterosexual youth (HET) to determine if differences in high school experiences, mental health, and substance use were present. Overall, the results indicated that GSA+ youth reported more positive school experiences, less problematic substance use, and less emotional distress when compared to GSA- youth. HET youth in this study had more positive outcomes compared to the sexual minority sample, with the exception of problematic substance use and high school GPA. The findings support considering high school GSAs as protective factors for sexual minority youth. The implications of these findings are discussed in further detail, along with the limitations of this research. Future directions for studying the potential benefits of attending a high school GSA for sexual minority youth are also provided.



© Copyright 2009 Nicholas Christopher Heck