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Starting a GSA

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During my junior year of high school, my best friend and I, who were both out on campus, considered whether there were other students who were also LGBTQ but not as open as we were out of fear or uncertainty. We had both come out lesbian in our early teens and went into high school open about our sexuality. For the most part, we never experienced any negative feedback because of this.  As a city centrally located between two major cities, our school had a diverse array of students from different backgrounds.

We started the GSA club because of news stories around the world reporting acts of violence and bullying towards students who were LGBTQ. To me, this was so surreal because I had never experienced this type of harassment. When I mentioned it to my friend, we both decided to look into starting a Gay-Straight Alliance on our campus. The idea was fueled by the fact that there were others out there who were being bullied because of their sexuality, and it may have even been happening on our own campus. It would be naive to assume that there weren’t other students on our campus who identified as gay or lesbian, and it would be especially naïve to assume that they had never encountered bullying or harassment because of it. Before acting on our idea, we asked close friends and classmates what they thought and the response was a positive one. Many students had never even heard of a Gay-Straight Alliance before that day.

We were both actively involved in clubs on our campus and approached a club advisor who was also a teacher at our school. She loved the idea and especially how it incorporated all students, not just LGBTQ students. We consulted the Gay-Straight Alliance website and found helpful tips on setting up one on our campus. One of the suggestions was that we take our idea to the principal. Within a few days, we had a lunch meeting with him. We expressed our reasons for wanting to start the club as well as how we felt this provided a safe space to celebrate diversity to our campus. He agreed with our objectives and, within a few weeks, we were an approved club.

Promotion of the club was primarily carried out by word of mouth, followed by a small piece in our high school newspaper. Initial reactions to our new club were mixed. Most of the students liked the idea of having a Gay-Straight alliance, while others did not understand the point or reason behind such a club. Word spread slowly and only a few students showed up at our first meeting. Some who identified as straight and some that identified as LGBTQ. During this meeting, we discussed how we could potentially spread the club’s name as well as our mission statement around promoting diversity on campus.

Members of the Gay-Straight Alliance were from different ethnic backgrounds and represented the spectrum of the LGBTQ community. Those who were already out on campus acted as mentors for those who were still in the closet. They encouraged others to come out in their own ways and to those they felt closest to and trusted the most. They also encouraged others to step up against bullying or harassment by reporting it or getting involved. Having such a diverse group within the club helped us feel like we were speaking to all different parts of the student body.

We generated the idea of a poster campaign that would include slogans promoting tolerance, acceptance, and diversity. These quotes encouraged people to look beyond ethnicity, sexual orientation, or religious views, and to instead see us all as equal. Many of these quotes we found on the GSA network website, or through research. The greatest impact I felt was seeing students stop in the hallways or on campus to read these signs. As our presence became more known on campus, more students began joining us for our weekly meetings and promoting the club and mission statement.

As the membership in the club grew, so did its diversity. Members were evenly split between those who identified as LGBTQ and heterosexual. Each student had a different reason for being there, many knew someone who was LGBTQ, some wanted a safe haven to come out and be themselves, and others did not like the negative stigma that surrounded the LGBTQ community at that time.

Along with helping affect the culture on campus, we also led several fundraisers to raise money for various organizations involved in the LGBTQ community, such as the Human Rights Campaign and San Francisco Aids Walk.

The biggest contribution the club offered was the support system it provided to students, myself included. The club was a safe-haven for those in the LGBTQ community and those who were curious about their own sexuality. During club meetings, we offered a time where students could express their own feelings or hardships they were experiencing. These discussions ranged from coming out to relationship woes to venting about issues within the LGBT community.

Seven years later, the Gay-Straight alliance at my high school still remains active. I keep in touch with the teacher who helped us start the club and follow what types of things they’re doing to promote acceptance today. They still continue to do poster campaigns, support local fundraisers like the SF Aids Walk and HRC, and work closely with local organizations like “Solano Pride.” The club itself has grown in size over the last 8 years, branching out to new students who want to spread acceptance.

by Billie

This story was produced in collaboration with GSA Network with support from California voter-approved Proposition 63 funds, as an initiative to develop mental health resources for LGBTQ youth in California. See the funding statement below for details.

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This program is funded by counties through the voter-approved Mental Health Services Act (Prop 63). It is one of several Prevention and Early Intervention Initiatives implemented by the California Mental Health Services Authority (CalMHSA), an organization of California counties working to improve mental health outcomes for individuals, families and communities. CalMHSA encourages the use of materials contained herein, as they are explained in our licensing agreements. To view the agreements, please visit: calmhsa.org

 

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