We don't know of any UK secondary school which has a club specifically for gay pupils, no doubt because of legislation brought in the 1980's, now repealed, called Section 28. The situation in the US was pretty much the same in the 1980's when exactly one American high school had a gay-straight alliance. Now over 1000 high schools do, although some face the displeasure of their school authorities who try to shut the clubs down.

These gay school societies became the central theme of a book and then a film called "Geography Club". Critics decribed the book at the time of its initial release as the best gay teen novel of its day. For OutUK, correspondent Joe Gable has been talking to author Brent Hartinger and we've an extract to give you a flavour of the book too.
“It’s the story of a group of students who want to form a gay-straight alliance at their high school,” said author Brent Hartinger.

“Problem is, they don’t want anyone to know they’re gay. So they disguise the true nature of their club--and discourage anyone else from joining it--by giving it the most boring name they can think of - The Geography Club. Unfortunately, their disguise doesn’t last.”

Author Brent Hartinger. Photo by Tim Cathersal.
Hartinger's novel received a much warmer reception than many of those gay-straight alliances facing closure. Almost immediately there was interest in the foreign rights, and the book was made into a movie in 2013 starring Cameron Deane Stewart, Justin Deeley and Meaghan Martin.
The book received many plaudits early after its release. The Bulletin for the Center for Children’s Books called the book "a lively and compelling story" and praised its “writty writing” and “heart-palpitating romance.” Horn Book Magazine called Geography Club’s narration “pitch-perfect. GayWired's critic wrote ”The quality of gay books with teenager protagonists is notoriously spotty. That said, Geography Club may be the best gay teen book ever."

“Everything has worked out so well for this book,” Hartinger said. “Sometimes I have to pinch myself to make sure I'm not dreaming."

Geography Club by Brent Hartinger is published by HarperCollins and is available direct from Amazon.
"I wish I could say it was because of some brilliant marketing strategy on my part", Hartinger said. "But the truth is, it was just a coincidence. In fact, I didn't even want to write the book, because I was convinced no publisher would ever buy it."

Hartinger said he was discouraged by the reaction to his first gay young adult book, which he wrote back in the early 1990s.

“It won a couple of major writing awards,” he said. “But the reaction among publishers was indifference bordering on outright hostility. One editor told me outright that there was absolutely no market for a book about gay teens. If it hadn‘t been for my agent--a straight woman--I never would have written another gay teen book. She talked me into writing Geography Club, because she was convinced that the times had changed, and that the world was finally ready for just such a book.”

For his part, Brent is just glad the book is drawing still more attention to the subject of gay school students. “I think most adults have no idea what gay school kids go through,” said Hartinger, who helped found a gay-support organization in his hometown of Tacoma, Washington, and who currently acts as an advisor to a gay-straight alliance at his old high school. “I think sometimes even some of us adult gay men and women forget,” he said. “We move to the big cities and start to think that the whole world is gay-tolerant. Hopefully, my book will remind people that some of the most courageous heroes in the gay rights struggle are still in their teens.”

Geography Club by Brent Hartinger is published by HarperCollins and is available direct from Amazon.

Chapter 1


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