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How GSAs Can Support Students in Puerto Rico

Students in a GSA working together

As you undoubtedly already know, Puerto Rico was struck by a powerful Category 5 hurricane on September 20, and people remain struggling, many without running water, food, and power. The last few months have left the community in destruction, as it works towards rebuilding. Puerto Rican students are left struggling, both here on the mainland and those still living in Puerto Rico.

There continues to be many needs to fill on the island. Besides the most basic needs caused by the hurricane, there are cries from the community for those in positions of power to recognize the history of Puerto Rico, the colonization of the land, and the “othering” of Puerto Ricans—that is, some of the root causes that have influenced the lack of response by the U.S. government. There is need to address both current and historical trauma.

To our Puerto Rican family, those here on the mainland, those worrying about family, and those who have just moved here because of the hurricane: we see you. We see the need for continuous action, to be angry, to listen to your needs and respond to them, and to fight alongside you.

To those wanting to act in allyship, members of GLSEN’s National Student Council have come up with a list of steps you can take right now, either as an individual or part of a GSA.

Act 

  • With your fellow students, write letters and make calls to your Congressperson to ask them to fund relief efforts for Puerto Rico and the repeal of the Jones Act.
  • Create a fundraiser, and donate your collections to one of the organizations below. A fundraiser could include crafting safety pins with beads in the colors of the Puerto Rican flag, holding coin drop offs at your school, creating school-supply care packages, or hosting a sliding-scale queer movie night. Here are some organizations and causes GSAs have donated to:
    • Trans & Queer Boricuas, which “provides direct cash assistance to trans and queer Boricuas whose lives, homes and/or property have been impacted by Hurricane Maria.”
    • Proyecto Matria, a local community organization focused on helping victims of gender violence and poverty. They have established an emergency fund to provide basic supplies and food for their participants and community.
    • Centro Comunitario LGBTT de Puerto Rico, which is accepting supplies, such as “batteries, flashlights, a generator for the Center, non-perishable food, other hard-to-come-by essentials for community members, and school supplies.”

Centro Comunitario LGBTT de Puerto Rico
Attn: Cecilia La Luz
P.O. Box 9501
San Juan, PR 00908

  • Organize a school assembly and/or a presentation for family members to act in solidarity with students, families, and educators in Puerto Rico and to call attention to your fundraiser.
  • Share Princess Nokia’s fundraising video, Pancho Guillermo Cordova’s exclusive tote and T-shirt, and Rodríguez Besosa’s sustainable food proposal. Amplify other Puerto Rican artists and activists who are using their power to raise awareness and support.
  • Check in with Puerto Rican members of your school/community to see if they or their families may need support directly.
  • Work with other affinity groups (Diversity Club, Hispanic Students Association, etc) to organize an event or to raise funds.

Learn

  • Talk about Teaching Tolerance’s How to Talk about Puerto Rico in your GSA.
  • Follow Puerto Rico’s LGBT Center, which is providing updates on how to best assist queer people in need. The group is active on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Organize with other students to learn about the history of Puerto Rico and to recognize the colonization of the land.
  • Talk about Puerto Rico in class (heritage, geography, culture) and the natural disaster.

We must support any and all communities that face hardships like this. There are so many ideas on how to help after disasters such as Hurricane Maria, but many are not followed through, often because folks doubt that they have the ability to make change. The first step is to listen to what is needed, and then move from there.

Our hearts are with you as you’re organizing in your schools and communities. You can always reach out to students@glsen.org for more support.

Marisa Matias, Sarah Bunn, and Mari Contreras are members of GLSEN’s National Student Council. Tate Benson is GLSEN’s Youth Programs Associate.