This post is by GLSEN Student Ambassador Carly
As many LGBT students and their allies across the country know, starting a Gay-Straight-Alliance is no easy task. When trying to establish a school GSA, students may face opposition from their school administration, their peers, or even the community at large. The situation gets even grimmer for students at private schools or middle schools, which usually have no legal obligation to let such GSA's form.
And yet, as an ally who attends a public K-8 school, I know that the need for GSA's—and the need for a safe place for all students—at such schools can be just as great as the need for them at public high-schools. Like many students, I wanted to do something to address this issue. Unfortunately, my administration has so far refused to do anything in relation to LGBT-bullying. So I decided to take a different route. I started a community Gay-Straight Alliance for all the students in my town.
Just like starting a GSA in a school, the road to starting a community GSA can be a little bumpy. However, it is a viable alternative for students at middle or private schools, who's administrators say “no” to GSA's. So in this blog post, I'd like to share a little bit about how I started a GSA, and how students in similar situations as me can do so themselves.
1. Think About Your Goals For Starting a GSA
It's important to keep in mind what exactly you hope to accomplish by starting a gay-straight alliance in your community. Usually, this can be fairly simple. For me, the goals in starting my GSA were to provide a safe place in my community for LGBT youth, educate the community about LGBT-bullying, and advocating for policy changes in the town's schools.
2. Get The Details Worked Out
Unlike school GSA's, which usually come with classrooms for after-school use and a faculty adviser or two, community GSA's often have to start from scratch—with many logistics to be worked out. If possible, the best thing to do is to find another organization or group in your community that could give you guidance in ironing out these details—as well as either giving you a meeting space, or helping you find one. I would suggest checking out any anti-bullying, LGBT, or HIV/AIDS organizations, or groups that are known for working on these issues. In my case, when I first got the idea for my GSA, I thought we might have to meet at my house. I was concerned that this would keep kids I didn't know from joining the club, and make it seem less public and accessible. So I talked to the open-and-affirming church I attend, which not only gave our club meeting space but also some guidance in planning our first meeting.
However, it is not always possible to find a group that can help you, especially in a small town. In that case, a good alternative is an organization that offers public meeting space to any group, such as a public library. Even if they can't help you with other logistics, they can at least offer you a meeting space. You can then, perhaps, turn to individuals who you know who may be able to help you.
3. Find Some Friends To Be Members
To have a club, you need members! I started with talking to a few friends of mine who I thought would be supportive, and asked them to be join. My club still only has six members (including my sister and I), who are all my friends, but I'm hoping now that we have a solid base we can begin recruiting more people we don't know.
Remember that a lot of people aren't familiar with what GSA's are, or what they do, so a good place to start in recruiting members is to explain these things. Even more importantly, explain why starting a GSA is important to you. And finally, it doesn't hurt to offer pizza or some similar treat at your first meeting (that's what I did. I also called it a kick off just to get people excited!)
4. Plan and Hold Your First Meeting
You've done all this hard work, and now it's time to have your first meeting! For this I suggest checking out GLSEN's Jump-Start Guide for GSA's. Most of the ideas in this guide work for community GSA's as well as regular GSA's.
At our first meeting, we went around and introduced ourselves (with our names, grades, schools, and preferred gender pronouns—which we decided to say even though all of us already knew each other). Then we talked our goals for the club, and what we saw ourselves doing in the future to meet those goals. Another important thing we did is elect club officers. Unlike in a school GSA, the club members in a community GSA are generally responsible for scheduling, planning, and executing all club meetings and activities, with some adult supervision. This can be a positive thing—as you have much more freedom with your club. But it also means you need dedicated members and officers to help you run the club. In our GSA, we agreed upon having a president to run meetings, a vice president to assist the president, two co-secretaries/co-treasurers, and a membership chair to keep track of members and recruit new ones.
5. Keep holding meetings and planning new ways to get involved in your community!
Hopefully your GSA will be able to expand and keep finding ways to make an impact on the issue of LGBT-bullying and harassment!
For more help on starting a GSA and organizing advocacy activities, I suggest checking out these sites, which have really helped me:
Do Something: an organization helping youth get involved in many issues affecting the world (including LGBT ones)
The Make It Safe Project: This organization is created by another GLSEN ambassador, and distributes LGBT-themed books to GSA's, as well as having lots of information on GSA's on their page.