Is your GLSEN chapter youth inclusive? Do young people play a significant role in your chapter's membership? Organization? Activities? How many officers and board members are under 24? If you have to ask yourself these questions, then the answer might be no. Even if you have already asked, you may still gain some new insight into how to better include youth.
- Before We Begin
- Why Include Youth?
- Recognize Stereotypes
- Invite Youth
- Concrete Ways to Include Youth
- GSA Networking
I. Introduction: Youth Inclusivity in GLSEN Chapters
Is your GLSEN chapter youth inclusive? Do young people play a significant role in your chapter's membership? Organization? Activities? How many officers and board members are under 24? If you have to ask yourself these questions, then the answer might be no. Even if you have already asked, you may still gain some new insight into how to better include youth. If youth aren't equal partners in your chapter, you have some homework to do. Inclusivity is an issue we should all be working on, growing towards and concerned with - from race to occupation to gender, gender identity and sexual orientation. Particularly important is age - from old to young. These differences are just some of the qualities that build and make up our diverse communities. To truly address the needs of the community, we must include the community - all of it. Through this resource we will focus specifically on some of the issues affecting inclusion of today's young people. After reading and discussing this material with young people in your community, we hope you will:
1. Better understand the importance of youth inclusion in your GLSEN Chapter.
2. Gain insightful and concrete ways to include youth in all aspects of your GLSEN Chapter.
3. Continually examine and evaluate your chapter's organization, procedures, policies and activities for inclusivity -- setting and reaching sustainable goals for youth inclusion
II. Before We Begin
We want to help you become more youth-inclusive. This guide should help your chapter to better include youth in your membership, leadership and activities. Additionally, this Inclusivity Package should help your chapter to better support the work of student Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) from your area schools.
If you are an adult, imagine for a moment that once you turned 21 years of age:
- You were considered too out-dated to know anything current or relevant.
- You lost the right to vote because you "couldn't understand all the issues."
- Your views no longer mattered or were taken seriously because you were thought to be jaded and unreliable.
- Events and activities only allowed those less than 21 years of age.
By no means is this scenario fair. This "disempowered adult" scenario is obviously biased and unjustifiable. For many of the same reasons, however, society's current "disempowered youth" way of thinking is equally biased and unjustifiable. What we need is an equal youth-adult partnership, where people of all ages learn to support each other, recognizing each of our strengths and weaknesses. In the effort to better reach this type of partnership, this resource has been developed to help chapters work with and include youth, on all levels.
III. Why Include Youth?
Simply put, everyone benefits from youth inclusion. A conscientious effort to include youth will help your chapter to:
- Correctly address youth needs,
- Add youth's unique perspective and insight,
- Nurture youth's unexplored potential,
- Empower youth,
- Develop leadership skills in tomorrow's generation,
- Instill new creativity and enthusiasm into your chapter, and
- Build stability for your chapter's future.
Build America: Youth On Board's "10 Points To Successfully Involving Youth" outlines some additional reasons for youth inclusion below, as we outline what this means for GLSEN Chapters.
Simple Reasons for Youth Inclusion
It's a diversity issue:
Just as GLSEN chapters and boards should be diverse in terms of race, class, sexual orientation and gender, they should also be diverse in terms of age. While youth may not have years of experience, they can offer intelligence, creative thinking, and a valuable outlook on the world. Youth have a unique perspective due to their age and individual personalities, as well as their race, class, religion, and sexual orientation, among other things. Without including people from the entire community, including youth, a GLSEN chapter will not have a diverse strength to build on.
It's a democracy issue:
To make democracy work, all people need to be heard - this includes the voices of young people. Chapters need to hear and act on the views, ideas, and passions of all people, including youth.
It's an effectiveness issue:
Young people are uniquely qualified to say what works for young people. By involving youth in decision-making, chapters can save time and money by pursuing projects that would be more effecting in working with young people while avoiding potential failures and pitfalls.
It's a youth development issue:
There is a growing youth empowerment movement joining the larger LGBTQ movement. By not including youth, chapters are cutting out an entire dimension of this movement. By encouraging youth participation, GLSEN chapters are helping youth develop self-confidence in their opinions and ideas, and introducing youth to valuable skills including public speaking, budgeting, leadership, networking and community organizing. Youth self-esteem enhances both the chapter and the community.
It's a long-term growth issue:
Many GLSEN chapters have noticed that their membership and leadership is growing older. While it is important to have people of all ages, adding youth to chapters can usher in a new generation of leadership, and strong youth-adult partnerships can prepare a chapter for years of successful organizing.
It's an organizational culture issue:
Youth can enliven the chapter atmosphere, as they often bring high energy and enthusiasm to their work.
It's a community outreach issue:
Incorporating youth can bring an entire new community of contacts to GLSEN chapters. Young people are able to plug into the world of their peers in ways that adults may not be able to. Word of mouth is especially powerful in the youth community.
It's an integrity issue:
It is important for GLSEN chapters to involve their constituents - including parents, teachers, school personnel, taxpayers, and youth.
IV. Recognize Stereotypes
Many people, even teachers, consciously or unconsciously have some stereotypes about both youth and adults. Recognizing these stereotypes is the first step towards breaking down the traditional barriers that stand between strong youth-adult partnerships. Some typical youth and adult stereotypes include:
Adults are thought to be:
- Out of touch
- Stuck in status quo
- Unappreciative to the value of youth perspectives
Youth are thought to be:
- Committed only short-term
To better understand these issues, ask yourself, "What are my stereotypes of youth?" - "What are my stereotypes of adults?" Listen carefully to your answers. No person, young or old, will fit these stereotypes simply because of their age. There are many inexperienced adults and many experienced youth. There are many imaginative and non-controlling adults, as well as focused and committed youth.
Honestly assess whether you are the negative adult or youth stereotype. Self-assessment is difficult but you can look for traits in your actions.
V. Invite Youth
Chapters that successfully include youth usually target their outreach programs specifically toward young people and then nurture the group's diversity. An excellent source of youth membership is your local schools. Sometimes the schools already have Gay-Straight Alliances comprising of students who are interested and active in LBGTQ issues. Many of these students may even have particular experience and struggles, like fighting for their rights to hold meetings, events or even to form their group. Currently, the ratio of GSAs to GLSEN chapters is over 8 to 1 so there is obviously great possibility.
Including youth in your organizing efforts, however, is only half of the battle. No one wants to be someplace where they don't feel included. To include, and keep young people you must make your GLSEN chapter welcoming and accommodating to youth. Like all people, youth want to feel welcome, appreciated and accepted. Don't simply think about what youth can do for your chapter, but what your chapter can do for them. By building a leadership development plan around a person's desires and needs, you can help to ensure long-term involvement, genuine investment and a positive growing opportunity for all involved. Again, like any chapter member, remember that through your actions or inaction, words or silence, you must assure that youth don't feel:
- Intimidated or unappreciated,
- Unequal or unimportant
- Left out, without a voice or a chance,
- Irrelevant or unnecessary, or
Most importantly, never be condescending toward youth. Also, subconscious stereotypes about youth are major obstacles to inclusivity and can lead some individuals to feel alienation. Be particularly attentive to your language, voice, contact (eye contact), and actions. While this may seem like a lot to remember when working with youth, these are simply things we should practice when working with anyone, no matter what their differences are. Additionally, being open about your strengths and weaknesses can help build strong working relationships with others in your chapters, while allowing for growth and learning by all.
VI. Concrete Ways to Include Youth
One of the most common mistakes is the thought that Youth Inclusion means inviting youth to speak at an event or stuff envelops at a mailing. In actuality, inclusion goes far beyond this and there are many levels in which to include youth into your GLSEN chapter. Following are ten steps that will help you welcome them as integral partners.
1: Secure the chapter's commitment
The entire organization must be on board with youth inclusion. A few dissidents can turn the youth off and away. The commitment is an acknowledgment of the extra effort that may be required to involve youth. Also, it is important to establish a code of conduct, which each member agrees to follow regarding appropriate behavior at chapter meetings and activities. Strict adherence to a code of conduct is particularly important when minors are involved.
2: Modify meetings to include youth
Special situations will arise when you involve young people. Your meetings and activities should accommodate school schedules and transportation difficulties. Family commitments and extracurricular activities deserve the same considerations as work and business trips. Also, meetings should occur at locations convenient and welcoming for young people. As an example, serving alcohol at a meeting would not be youth inclusive.
3: Provide a chapter orientation
To make any new member feel welcome, especially youth, it is important to conduct a good orientation program to introduce the organization, it's mission and goals, policies and bylaws, programs, and members. The more familiar young people are with the chapter, the more they can contribute in a meaningful way. Use your volunteer/member recruitment techniques to establish strong working relationships with new young members.
4: Make meetings fully inclusive
Activities like "brainstorming" and "going around" ensure that everyone is heard and given equal status. This creates a dynamic environment that will engage all members and make everyone feel part of the group. Concerted guidance of meetings will also reduce any domination by an overbearing member. Small group activities are sometimes less intimidating and offer individuals the chance to speak up. One of the most common complaints by young people is that their voices are not heard or treated as important and equal.
5: Place youth in leadership positions
Placing youth in important board and committee positions fully integrates them into the group and gives them a voice in the decision-making process. Youth leadership positions show young members the range of opportunities available and foster their fullest participation. Additionally, it's a good idea to always include more than one young person on a board or committee so they may support each other and avoid feeling isolated or tokenized.
Amend your chapter bylaws and policies to specifically designate board and leadership positions for youth. You can specify either a minimum number or minimum percentage of youth on your board. Some chapters may also have two co-chairs, one adult and one youth. Additionally, amending your by-laws ensures that youth involvement is not just a phase of your current chapter leadership.
6: Train young leaders
You might seek a young person who possesses skills, a unique perspective or a readiness for leadership. However, sometimes these young people (as with anyone) may still need to develop their leadership skills, particularly as they relate to a specific position. They may be unfamiliar with budgeting, committee work, or board protocols. Familiarize the youth with their specific duties, tasks and responsibilities. You might establish a mentoring program to pair a young board member with an experienced one. Include youth in every training opportunity and conference. Remember however, they may be much more experienced then you expected - don't assume one way or the other.
7: Build youth-adult working relationships
A good rapport between members, youth and adults, helps make the chapter operate smoothly and effectively. The rapport is built over time through fun activities, laughing, good communications, careful listening, and honest sharing of ideas and feelings. Each member must have respect for every other member, even if you don't always agree on specific ideas or projects. Your chapter should devote some time each year to activities that promote intergenerational working relationships. Also, board retreats are an excellent way to build camaraderie and cohesion for a more effective organization.
8: Involve parents
Remember the importance of involving the parents of your young members, if the youth approve of this. Invite parents to events, talk to them about the chapter's work, answer their questions, and show appreciation for all they do to help their children. Before involving parents, get the youth's permission and assure the youth that you are not checking up on them or breaking any confidentiality. Talking to parents demonstrates how important youth involvement is to the chapter and helps gain their support.
9: Reward young people's involvement
Recognition is one of the best ways to motivate someone. You feel great when someone says, "You are doing a great job.” The power of appreciation is awesome. Try to recognize outstanding work at every meeting. Remember that small steps for you may be great leaps for them. Schedule an annual awards meeting to formally thank all your members and to recognize individual achievements.
10: Network with other GLSEN chapters and GSAs
Networking with other chapters provides opportunities for both your adult and youth members to interact and learn. With over 95 GLSEN chapters and 700 GSAs there are plenty of resources and groups to learn from, many of which are facing similar issues as you are. Also involve youth in regional and national conferences to meet other young leaders and learn how other chapters do things.
VII. GSA Networking
As part of youth inclusivity, your chapter might consider supporting the work of and networking with local GSAs. You then become an important resource for them, and vice versa. By informally affiliating with a GSA, your chapter must recognize, however, the independence of the GSA. A chapter should never control or run a GSA. To learn more about GSAs check out some of Student Pride USA's resources (available online):
- The GSA Handbook
- 10 Steps Towards Starting A GSA (revised)
For more information on youth inclusion in your chapter, contact your regional organizer. Student Pride has great resources on GSA organizing, and Youth on Board is a great organization. Check out Youth on Board’s resource, “14 Points: Successfully Involving Youth in Decision Making.” See the related contacts and links for more information.