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GLAAD

5 tips for creating a GSA at your school

September 10, 2018

For many students, a Genders and Sexualities Alliance (GSA)—sometimes also referred to as a Gay-Straight Alliance—is the only place for queer and transgender students and allies to meet and discuss their experiences without judgement or prejudice. Outside of GSA clubs, many queer and transgender students don’t have the privilege to live their lives openly. Creating spaces for LGBTQ+ students to develop their voices is vital, but the process can be daunting and place burden on students who may not have the knowledge or resources to start a club. Although every school is different, and private schools do not have to abide by the same laws that are applicable to public schools, here are some helpful tips on how to start—or expand and improve—a GSA:

1. Know your rights.

No, you don’t need to memorize the entire constitution, but just remember: A public school administration does not have the right to deny the formation of a GSA or to treat your club differently than other preexisting clubs at your school. This right is guaranteed by the federal Equal Access Act of 1984. This means that your school cannot deny the formation of a  club because another club (e.g. Human Rights Club) discusses similar topics or change the name of your club to something erasing its queerness (e.g. A Gay-Straight Alliance cannot be forced to change its name to Equality Club).

2. Gather support from those around you.

Activism and community engagement is always easier when you have the help of others. Talk to everyone you know who may be interested in supporting you in creating a GSA and ask how they may want to help. Sometimes, the least expecting people—your classmate in math class who you rarely talk to or a friend’s teacher in a class you don’t take—can become your  fiercest supporters and strongest allies in forming the club.

At this time, it’s imperative for you to inform your school administration on your intent to create a GSA. Some schools will require you to draft a constitution for your club, stating the bylines and agenda of the GSA. This may seem like an inconvenience, but it will be helpful for the next step when you’re trying to decide on the purpose of the club. If your school denies your request, remind them that it’s not only wrong to do so—it’s illegal.

3. Decide the goals of the club.

A GSA  can take on many forms depending on the need of the community: A support group for students on navigating LGBTQ+ life, enacting activism and policy changes within the school and/or area, or simply a social group to meet other students. Your club doesn’t have to take on a single form, nor does it have to stay the same over time, but keeping a consistent itinerary establishes that your club means business and can keep members engaged and returning.

Again, nothing has to be permanent, but now would also be a good time to decide on who is going to run your school’s GSA and the rules the club will abide by (if your school made you write a constitution, this part can be super easy!). The leaders of your GSA do not have to be friends, but they should be people who can work together and who want to run the club for no other reason than to further the mission of your GSA.  

4. Focus on growing your club and finding long-term members.

Reach out to every student, because you can never know who could benefit from and contribute to your club. All successful GSA’s have active members. Some clubs are small, others are large; what matters is that all members are engaged in the community. Yup, you read that correctly: Size doesn’t matter. If you keep reaching out to new people and keep in touch with those who’ve attended meetings in the past, your membership numbers should positively correlate with the amount of work you’re putting in.

5.  Make sure your club includes everyone—even if they can’t be there.

Conversations meant to support marginalized communities should include everyone. Clubs that are intersectional have the potential to attract more members! If  your school or club is not the most diverse, try reaching out to people and organizations that could facilitate discussions on topics such as race, ethnicity, disability, and religion. If possible, have members of the communities you’re talking about facilitate the discussion. No matter what your GSA decides to talk about, we all have lots to learn from each other.

Nick Fiorellini is a GLAAD Campus Ambassador and junior at Bard College studying literature. He is member of the school’s QSA, Christian Fellowship, and is currently in the process of reviving the Hudson Sexuality and Gender Discussion Group

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