Photo by Wunmi Onibudo
I first learned about Gay-Straight Alliances (a.k.a. Gender-Sexuality Alliances) during my first week of freshman year. I remember flipping through my school-issued agenda to find a list of extracurricular clubs, and I branded the GSA (along with the Harry Potter club) with a yellow highlighter stripe to indicate my interest.
The first meeting, in truth, was a bit rocky – not necessarily well-planned. The club had some vague, open-ended discussions, but we never really tried to make any real changes in our school.
But when new officers were elected at the end of the year, our club underwent some major changes. The new officers were adamant about making change at school instead of just sitting around and talking. That year, my sophomore year, we started talking to the administration. It was not an instant improvement – not by a long shot – but it was the beginning of a trend of taking action.
The following year, my junior year, not only did our attendance more than triple in size, but we also gained a reputation as a group of students who create change. That year, we spoke at a teachers’ professional development day about respecting student names and pronouns, added a non-binary option to our homecoming court, and established a multi-stall gender-neutral bathroom at school.
But despite our great successes and future plans, I still think back to our original GSA: sitting in a circle, talking about how life has treated us and (sometimes) crying. Even though we are clearly a force to be reckoned with at school, we are also something much softer than that.
Sometimes we have lots of attendees, and we’re doing something big, like talking to the principal. But other times, we just talk to one another. And that’s something worthwhile, too. When someone in the club is struggling, we’re a shoulder to cry on. When a teacher undermines one of our students, we’re a big sibling to address the issue. When home life is chaotic and unrelenting, we’re gentle and accepting.
This is a group of people who will accept every pronoun and presentation, who will listen to every bad relationship story, who will offer advice and friendship that goes well past those classroom walls. We have students at almost every step of the journey: students who are out at home and students who are closeted; students who are transitioning and students who haven’t even thought about it; students who have a phonebook full of allies to call and students who just have us.
A GSA can be a place where students work to ensure their school is LGBTQ-inclusive, and it can also be a place where students navigate the struggles of forging an identity. Luckily, my GSA is both.
As I go back to school for my senior year, I’m fighting for every school to have a GSA that can be as impactful as mine. That’s why I’m signing GLSEN’s Letter to the Next President, which demands that all candidates for President publically support LGBTQ students, which includes supporting a GSA in every school. Will you sign the letter with me?
Rowan Little is a member of GLSEN’s National Student Council.