Each year at the GLSEN Respect Awards we recognize an outstanding GSA or similar LGBTQ student club that is dedicated to creating a safe, diverse, and inclusive school community for all. At the event later this month we are recognizing E.O. Green Junior High School GSA, PRISM as GSA of the Year.
By learning from the lessons of the school's past and opening lines of communication with current students, this student club has worked to create a welcoming place where students of all genders and sexualities can feel safe and learn.
We spoke with the President of the GSA of the year, Taylor Perez, about maintaining a GSA, communication, campus outreach, creating safe spaces, and using GLSEN resources. Read below to see what advice he has for jumpstarting your school's GSA!
1. Why did you want to become GSA president?
I wanted to become President of PRISM to support my local queer community and begin pushing toward a world of equality. It has been an honor to be President and meet so many diverse people. I have had such a wonderful experience helping students throughout their self-discovery and encouraging them to help others.
2. How did you get your GSA started and recruit members? How do you keep members interested in being a part of the club?
PRISM was started when a trans student came out to our principal Mrs. Haines and asked why we didn’t have a GSA at our school. She and the student worked together using GLSEN resources online and formed our GSA a month later. A small group of LGBTQ+ students worked hard that year to support each other and teach others in our community about who we are. This year our club grew to 30-40 students, from our original 12-13 members. We have continued to normalize queer people in our school, community and society through our activities and participation. Many of our events came from the GLSEN website.
We are there for any student who comes to the meetings and we make sure that they are surrounded by people who care about them. The meetings have never and will never be mandatory, but our door will always be open to those who are willing to lend an ear. It is my firm belief that communication and willingness to provide a helping hand are the best ways to help people in need.
3. What is a typical meeting like for your club?
We work hard and we play hard! Our members and advisers are energetic and enthusiastic, and we enjoy being together to better our school community. A typical meeting opens with making sure members are accounted for and cared for. Next we share any news, whether it be someone sharing that they have come out or discussing and planning an upcoming event. Then we discuss future plans for school events such as the Day of Silence, Red for Ed (a day of activism to support public schools, sponsored by the California Teachers Association), or our respectful anniversary of the school tragedy, Rainbow Hornets Day. Trinkets such as ribbons are made for the events and posters are placed around the school.
4. What do you love most about being the president of your GSA?
The human experience is such an important thing and I have been so powerfully touched by each of our members. Having conversations and hearing peoples' stories has been so inspiring. I have helped people open up to who they are, love who they are, and be willing to lend an ear to others as I have to them. Everyone has a story and everyone’s story should be heard. If you take anything from this, let it be that everyone wants to be heard.
5. As the president of your GSA how do you make sure that you create a safer space where others voices and ideas are heard?
I connect with every single one of my members especially when they are having an issue. I discourage people from being rude and condescending asking them to treat everyone with dignity and respect, which is the school motto of E.O. Green. I have always encouraged new opinions and ideas. An open mind to different opinions and ideas than your own is such an important skill to have.
All of our members play a huge part in outreach, whether they are part of the LGBTQ+ community or allies. Our events reach out to every student and staff member on campus and we have seen a positive change to our school’s culture. We’re proud of the work we have done to bring E. O. Green Junior High School into an accepting and welcoming space.
6. What impact have you seen your club make on your school?
Since starting PRISM last year, we have seen such a major shift in the way students interact with each other. Seeing people loving who they love and being who they are warms my heart because I can proudly say we helped make that happen. People who would otherwise be alone at school now have lifelong friends they met through PRISM. I see people who have had their self-confidence majorly boosted thanks to the caring community in PRISM . Most importantly, I see smiles on faces that used to look as though they were on the verge of tears.
We have seen the word gay and other identifying terms being used as slurs decrease greatly, and bullying due to sexual orientation is rare now, thanks to our supportive Principal and Assistant Principals. Even our Superintendent has given her full support to our GSA. PRISM has made such a major impact on so many lives and it took every single one of us working together to do that.
7. What advice do you have for students trying to build their school’s GSAs?
Communicate calmly, even if it may seem the world is against you. I know when we first started, we felt intimidated. It was our willingness to remain calm in the face of hate and to sit down and to discuss how to make things better for everyone that made us successful. To continue, talk with authorities around you. Bring fully formulated ideas to them and show them how important it is that everyone deserves representation and a safe place to go. Have a solid backing of people to help when you fall. Be true to yourself and what you believe in and you will go far. And of course, the GLSEN site was so important in giving us the guidelines we needed to begin, so starting there is valuable.
8. What do you hope your school’s GSA can do in the future?
I hope that when I leave PRISM and move on to my high school GSA next year, the club will continue its striving for the equality of all people regardless of sexuality, sex, gender orientation, race, religion, or class. I hope that the good work of making our school, community and world a safe space for everyone continues. I have faith in my fellow members and have no doubt they will keep fighting for equality.
9. What GLSEN resources have you used, and how have you used them?
The information on forming the club was our starting point. The GLSEN Jump Start Guide was important in forming our GSA and knowing our rights. We have taken ideas for events, and printed out signs and stickers from the GLSEN site for all our events, such as the Day of Silence, which is a personal favorite. The Day of Silence significant because of the opportunity to teach people that not everyone has a voice and how hard it is to remain quiet, the patience one must have to not make a sound, and how all this is representative of those who cannot speak out of fear they will be harmed. We had a successful No Name-Calling Week as well. It is easy to do with the resources GLSEN provides.
The resources give us great information and topics to discuss and act on with PRISM. The article on Empowerment and Self-Identification has helped in the foundation of our GSA’s ideals. The concept of encouraging those around you to love themself is so incredibly important. I’ve personally used the article on Misgendering and Respect for Pronouns to help students support their transgender peers. It is important to know the proper pronouns for others and yourself. GLSEN’s education resources have been key to our success with all students. GLSEN has been such a major help in setting up PRISM and teaching others the importance of equality. Thank you all so much for the important work you do to support us!