As summer comes to a close and school starts up again, many students, including me, will be returning to one thing: our school’s GSA. These student-led organizations focus on providing a safe environment in schools for all students, regardless of gender or sexual orientation. No matter what name a GSA may go by (Gay-Straight Alliance, Gender-Sexualities Alliance, Rainbow Club, Diversity Club, etc.), they can hold an influential position in school and help create an inclusive environment for all.
GSAs can have a huge impact on school climate. According to GLSEN research, students in schools with a GSA heard anti-LGBTQ remarks less often in school and had more positive attitudes towards LGBTQ people. Yet, many students do not have access to a GSA in their school. GLSEN’s survey of all secondary school students found that about a third of students (36%) had a GSA in their school.
If your school already has a GSA, then here are a few different ways it can work to make your school more LGBTQ-inclusive.
1. Participate in GLSEN campaigns
GLSEN has multiple campaigns throughout the year for students and educators. One campaign that’s coming up soon is Ally Week, this year from September 25-29. Ally Week is a time for LGBTQ students and educators to lead the conversation of what they need from their allies in school, discussing how everyone can work together to be better allies to the LGBTQ community. Make sure to register to organize the campaign in your school!
2. Hold an assembly
In my school, 30-minute assemblies are held once a week and are a great platform for clubs to promote events or to talk about important issues. My GSA holds two assemblies per year: the first around National Coming Out Day on October 11, and the second around Day of Silence.
For our National Coming Out Day assembly this year, we defined different sexual orientations and gender identities, and we discussed the best ways to react when someone comes out to you. Part of our 10-minute presentation was a short activity in which we shared LGBTQ statistics. The assembly had a positive reception, and many students felt like we did a good job of educating without lecturing or policing them. My GSA also experienced higher attendance at our meetings after the assembly, and more students knew about us.
If your school regularly holds assemblies, try having your GSA ask about giving a school-wide presentation. Good times to hold an assembly would be around GLSEN campaigns or other nation-wide LGBTQ events. Besides discussing the event, GSAs could talk about ways to be a better ally, define different identifies, and push for inclusion of LGBTQ students. Not only can assemblies further acceptance, but they also can establish your GSA’s position in your school and encourage more students to participate.
3. Educate through advertising
Creating educational posters and hanging them around the school is another way to spread awareness and make your school more LGBTQ-inclusive. Last year, we created flyers to explain different identities, while our flyers for this year discouraged students from saying certain microaggressions. The flyers state our club name and meeting times, and we put them in high-traffic areas like bathrooms, student lounges, and classrooms.
Another way we advertise is through our club bulletin board. Our club board provides different resources such as LGBTQ current events and terminology, along with information about our meetings. Since the board is near one of the entryways of my school, students see it at least once a day.
No matter the size of your GSA, it has the potential to play a powerful role at your school. The high level of LGBTQ acceptance at my school is the result of the hard work and dedication of my school’s GSA and diversity clubs. The work, and even simply the existence, of a GSA in a school can generate a better understanding of the LGBTQ community and create a welcoming environment at school for all students.
If your GSA wants to make your school more LGBTQ-inclusive, GLSEN can help you. This back-to-school season, GLSEN is focused on empowering GSAs, LGBTQ student leaders, and the educators who support them to effect change in their local schools. Check out their back-to-school resources, including brand-new GSA activities and soon-to-be released video resources!
Auden Bunn is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.
Questions for discussion:
1. What would these three suggestions look like if you were to implement them at your school?
2. What other ideas do you have around creating an inclusive environment this school year?
3. Brainstorm a potential timeline to implement one idea from your answers above, whether from the article or sourced from a GSA member.