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When our GSA advisor, Michelle, first announced that we won GLSEN’s GSA of the Year, we were in complete shock, speechless even. She and Courtney, our principal, decided to announce the news during Caitlyn Jenner’s visit to our school. Not exactly your average day for high school students! At first, a few of us thought that only New York City schools were eligible for the award. And then we learned that every GSA in the country could have been nominated—every GSA in all 50 states, including states that some of us have never even been to like California and Florida and North Carolina. But our small school out in East New York, Brooklyn, is GSA of the Year. We still can’t believe it. And we still can’t believe that we got selfies with Jussie Smollett!

People always want to know what we do in our GSA. We’re not just a club. We’re a family—in school and out of school. In our GSA, we build relationships, find our voices and learn about the world outside of school. A few months ago, we organized a special workshop to meet with other GSAs. That was a big thing for us because we had the chance to mentor other LGBT students. We told them how to do a Pride Day, how to participate in GLSEN’s Day of Silence, how to talk to their principals about getting gender-neutral bathrooms, how to talk to their teachers and families about coming out, and how to spread awareness about the things LGBT students go through. These campaigns inside and outside of our school are why we deserved this award.

We’re excited to tell our stories as LGBT people of color—stories that are rarely told by the media but are so important to share. It sometimes feels like America doesn’t know that LGBT people of color are even living here. Where are our voices? Our stories? Our TV characters (with the exception of Laverne Cox, Jussie Smollett and a few others)? Our superheroes? Politicians (we can’t name any, can you?) At the GLSEN Respect Awards – New York, so many amazing people got to talk to us, learn our stories and hear the hard work we’ve been doing to make New York City public schools inclusive spaces for all LGBTQ young people.

We worked really hard for this award, whether that meant staying late at school blowing up balloons for a Pride display or mentoring students in our middle school who are still grappling with their gender identity. We worked hard because we thought that everyone needed a safe space to be themselves. People should call you by the pronoun you desire, and you should be free to go to the bathroom that you feel most comfortable in—to be you and do you. You don’t have to be scared about what other people think or say behind your back about your sexual orientation or gender identity. 

This is just the beginning, not the end. We don’t want to make a safe space for people only in America; people should have safe spaces in other countries, too. We’ve made a great change in our school and in our city, but there is so much more to do.                                                           

This post was written collaboratively by Dio Ayala, Dasia Flemming, Daniel Collado and Spencer Washington—members of the Academy for Young Writers Gender Sexuality Alliance, GLSEN’s 2016 GSA of the Year.