By Kyra McWilliams
Image via James Clemens High School
LGBTQ+ people, especially those of color, have always been targeted and harassed for their identity. Whether it’s using the word gay as an insult as a child or picking on an openly queer person simply because of their sexuality, most everyone has witnessed homophobia at school. One way to combat this is to join (or start) your school’s GSA, or a club equivalent to it.
What Is GSA?
GSA stands for gay-straight alliance or gender-sexuality alliance. Many high schools incorporate this club or similar clubs into their curriculum, my school’s version being the Solidarity Club. The purpose of a GSA is to provide a safe space for LGBT students and allies. They typically focus on inclusion within schools and the wellbeing of LGBT students, but this can differ from club to club.
Why do they matter?
GSA’s are incredibly important. 60% of LGBTQ youth reported feeling sad or hopeless, to the degree that it interfered with their typical activities according to this study. “LGBT youth are almost five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared to heterosexual youth,” This statistic is incredibly troubling, and affects everyone. GSA’s provide safe spaces for these students, and, while they aren’t replacements for professional treatment, they show students that they aren’t alone and give them a community. Especially in religious schools, they help students who may be struggling with their religious and sexuality/gender identity.
Why Should I Join?
Even if you are not on the LBGT spectrum, you should still join your school’s GSA! They are for everyone, including allies. Gaining perspective and hearing from students first hand is so important and should be something every ally seeks out. And if you are an LGBT student, it’s a great way to build community and meet others like you! If you haven’t come out yet, you can claim yourself as an ally until you’re ready. GSA’s are confidential, so you don’t have to worry about your parents finding out either. They’re also a lot of fun and a great chance to meet some great new people. Many GSA’s also fundraise for LGBT charities, which is a great way to give back to the community.
How do I join or start one?
Joining a GSA is the same as joining any other club! Find out meeting times or talk with a member or teacher who’s part of the club. Then, all you have to do is show up! Of course, each club is different, but I guarantee you’ll be welcomed in with open arms!
If your school does not yet have a GSA (or similar club), then you should seriously consider starting one. Each school’s process for starting a club is different, but the most universal first step is to find a few other students interested. You don’t need to build up the whole club, just find a couple students or recruit your friends. Next, you're going to want to find a teacher who will oversee the club. This may sound daunting, but consider asking a teacher you’re close with or a counselor. This part may also be scary because you don’t want to share your thoughts or feelings with an adult. Have your adult promise confidentiality or find a way to make sure what is said in the club stays in the club, unless, of course, it involves self harm or suicide. The last step is to get your club approved by administration. This part may be difficult, depending on the admin at your school. If you are having troubles, know the law is on your side (so long as you’re at a public school)! Under the Equal Access Act, you are allowed to start any non-curricular club, meaning unrelated to school like Chess Club or Movie Club. All public schools must respect this, and you’re in the clear!
What If I go to a private school?
Depending on your school and administration, this part could be tricky. I spoke with the students at my private, Catholic who started our GSA to get some insight. If you attend a religious school, you’re familiar with the archdiocese of whatever city you live in. When starting a GSA, there will be boundaries to what you can and cannot do as a club. Talk with your administration about what your archdiocese will allow you to do. Advocate for yourself and the LGBT+ students at your school, and show why your club is so needed. As mentioned before, LGBT students are much more likely to struggle with mental health issues, and this is especially true within religious communities. If you’re having difficulties finding a middle ground with your admin or archdiocese, remember to be patient. They may not immediately understand what you are trying to do, but remember that you have a community and allies supporting you. Ultimately, you are doing something amazing, and they will eventually see that.
So, you’ve joined or started your GSA- what now?
First of all, congratulations! You have just joined an amazing community, and I’m so proud of you! You might, however, be wondering what to do now. Here is a list of possible ideas for your GSA!
Fundraise! Hold a bake sale, sticker sale, pin sale. Organizations like The Trevor Project or GLSEN are always in need of donations to help fund their great work.
Day of Silence! The day of silence is a demonstration in which students “take a vow of silence to protest the harmful effects of harassment and discrimination of LGBTQ people in schools,” (GLSEN). This event takes place every April, and it’s an amazing event to participate in.
Powerpoint Day! You may have seen the viral TikTok trend where friends would make presentations for each other. Take this idea, but make it LGBT presentations! This is a really fun idea, and I think it would be great for community building.
Notable LGBT People from History! Dedicate a meeting to discussing notable LGBTQ people from history, and theyre impact on the world.
Movie Day! Pick a time to watch some LGBT-themed shows or movies. Again, this would be a great way to build community!
If you still want more ideas, check out this article about things GSA’s can do!
Concludingly, GSA’s function is to create a safe space for LGBT students. They are absolutely necessary, as it’s important for students to see that they’re not alone. They build community and can accomplish great things through fundraisers, or simply just educating those at their school. Starting a GSA may seem daunting, but it’s just like starting any other club! Most importantly, GSA’s promote self love and care for students. GSA’s show students that they matter and that they aren’t alone. Personally, my school’s GSA has helped me immensely in my journey of self discovery and self love. To finish, here is a quote from Clare Helton, a senior involved in my school’s GSA.
Written by writer Kyra McWilliams