Spencer Washington of GLSEN’s 2016 GSA of the Year, meeting with then-Education Secretary John King
Last month, along with other LGBTQ student leaders, I met with then-Secretary of Education John King to discuss how the U.S. Department of Education can create schools that are more inclusive of LGBTQ students. We discussed ways they could provide resources for schools and create inclusive polices around sex education, all-gender bathrooms, and more.
Former Secretary King sat and listened to my story as a trans student of color in New York City, as well as the stories of other students who have both similar and different backgrounds: students who go to religious schools, students who live in North Carolina, students who are the only openly LGBTQ person at their school. It really opened up my eyes to how much power youth can hold, especially when they come together.
Now, with people in power like Secretary DeVos, who unlike former Secretary King, hasn’t shown allyship to people like me (her department just took away guidance for protecting trans students), we need to celebrate the power of youth coming together to make change in their local communities. Often, it’s students who come together as GSAs or similar student clubs that have a real impact on their schools – and that’s something worth celebrating, especially when there’s no support coming from the White House.
Spencer Washington at a rally after the reversal of the Title IX guidance for protecting trans students
Having a GSA in school is like the first collision in a row of dominoes. First, it helps LGBTQ students and their allies, but the effect quickly spreads to the entire school community. GSAs provide a space for students to share their stories and build relationships with their classmates. They also help start conversations about LGBTQ students’ and staff concerns and even legal needs.
Last year, GLSEN recognized my school’s GSA as GSA of the Year, and they’re now searching for this year’s honoree, which will earn a free trip to New York City to share their story at the GLSEN Respect Awards – New York. I urge you to nominate your GSA or another one you know. Our work in making schools more LGBTQ-inclusive isn’t stopping now; it’s only becoming more and more important.
Spencer Washington is a leader of the Academy for Young Writers GSA, GLSEN’s 2016 GSA of the Year. Nominate your GSA for this year’s honor before March 1.