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Gay-Straight Alliances, or GSAs, have earned a permanent place in our language, and are spreading. There are now about a dozen "gay clubs" throughout city high schools and more are being established every year. They offer a chance for students to socialize, have a safe space free of discrimination, discuss important issues, have a voice in their school and create visibility. Overall, they can help make a school become more positive and accepting of all people. But what about the schools that are left without this valuable resource and opportunity? Usually the responsibility lies with the students of a school to organize clubs and run them. So what steps must a student take in order to establish a GSA at their own school? Here are 10 steps to create a GSA in your school. 1. Determine if a GSA is needed in your school. A simple three-question test can determine this. Are there any gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans students or students who know someone who is? Is there any homophobia in the school? Is there anyone who is uninformed or curious about queer facts and issues? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, a GSA is needed. So now that we have established that all schools need a GSA, we can continue. 2. Find students and teachers to support you. They will be there if you come across opposition, share the responsibilities and ensure someone actually attends the first meeting. 3. Do your research. You need to know the rules and procedures for starting a club. Following the rules will ensure no-one can ban the club for a silly reason. You may encounter rules requiring that a club has to be open to all (gay and straight) and that there must be a staff supervisor. 4. Look up your rights as a student. This is usually located in the school charter. It could include the right to a harassment-free and safe school environment. If the administration is giving you a hard time, you can refer back to your rights and show them they cannot legally stop you. Knowing your rights gives you power to enforce them. 5. Decide on a name. You can use GSA, or create your own, like GLOW (Gay, Lesbian or Whatever) or Rainbow Straight Alliance. Feel free to make the name unique, interesting and playful. 6. Plan the first meeting. It's crucial to make sure the meetings are fun, relaxed and enjoyable. Bringing prizes or food can help encourage reluctant participants to come. Planning the first meeting also involves deciding when, where and how often the meetings will be held. Concerns about safety and confidentiality should also be addressed at this time. In my experience, it's important not to hide. There may be some controversy at first, but then students get used to the idea and the GSA becomes just another normal part of school. This can make the environment more accepting. 7. You may choose to inform the administration or not. Telling a principal can allow you to let him know if there are any special requests you may have. Not telling the administration avoids outing yourself to them and having opposition before you even begin. 8. Advertise. This could include announcements, posters and word of mouth. Have fun with it. Make it interesting, entertaining and attention-grabbing. But remember, posters usually have to be approved by the administration before you can put them up, so fight temptation and keep them clean and respectful. 9. Hold your first meeting. Don't be disappointed if there is a low turnout. The important thing is to have fun and make the first few meetings as engaging as possible. If the first meetings are enjoyable, people will invite friends to come with them and the club's popularity will start to grow. 10. Keep it going. Many principals will cater to a student who they know is leaving in June, believing that'll be the end of it. Make sure someone is there to take over once you leave. So there you have it: 10 easy steps to creating a GSA. Now what are you waiting for? Get out there and make an impact at your school.The writer of the article is Heather Montgomery. As I mentioned at the beginning of the post, she started a gay-straight alliance at her high school. She is now in college. I wish I would have seen an article like this when I first started organizing my gay-straight alliance at Reynolds :) Here are some resources for students who might be thinking about starting a gay-straight student group in their schools:
- GLSEN - Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network
- PFLAG - Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays
- GSAFE Greensboro - Gay-Straight Advocates for Education
- QCYNT - Queer College & Youth Network of the Triad (for colleges/universities)