So you want to start a GSA…

So you want to start a GSA Title Text. LGBTQIA+ Pride Flag. Author: Dr. Timothy (Tim) Grivois, Executive Director

by Dr. Timothy (Tim) Grivois, Executive Director

The 40/50 reason

A  2017 University of Chicago study estimates that 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQIA+. The 2021 National Survey on LGBTW Youth Mental Health finds that homeless queer youth are two to four times as likely to suffer depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.

A 2008 study from British Colombia found that if a school had a Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA), suicide risk for LGBTQ+ youth was 50% lower—and 50% lower for heterosexual boys as well.

Forming a GSA is an act of suicide prevention. 

What is a GSA?

GSA stands for Gender-Sexuality Alliance. GSAs are student-run clubs that exist to unite LGBTQ+ and allied youth. Some GSAs focus on community-building activities within the club and the broader school community. Others are more activism-focused, bringing youth together to change systems, structures, and policies within the school. While most GSAs are high school and middle school clubs, some elementary schools also sponsor GSAs.

GSA membership is open to everyone, and there is no presumption of gender / sexual identity. Most importantly, a GSA is a student-run club. Therefore, the first step to building a successful GSA is to equip youth with the knowledge and skills to organize themselves.

What do GSAs do?

Some GSAs are mostly about building community, and others are mostly about activism. The type of GSA you and your students might build depends mostly on the youth you serve and what they want to do. Here are some examples of typical activities in both GSAs:

Watch a movieAttend or host a local LGBTQIA+ Youth Conference
Take a social trip to a coffee shopParticipate in activities to examine privilege and power
Go on a group hikeHost a Day of Silence during LGBTQ History Month
Host a drag show or open-mic nightWrite LGBTQIA+ opinion pieces for school newspaper
Board gamesGo to school board meetings and advocate for policies that protect LGBTQ students

Whatever your students choose to make their GSA about, your role as a faculty advisor is to listen to what they want to do and support them with skills and training to accomplish their goals. Sometimes, adults start GSAs wanting to help youth but forget that the youth themselves are the experts of their own lives. GSAs begin with youth, and the best GSA advisors help youth stay in the middle of their conversation.

Also, notice that neither community-focused or activism-focused GSAs are about sex. Instead, faculty advisors for GSAs follow the same professional boundaries around conversations around relationships and sexual health as they would for any students at their school.

How do we start a GSA?

The short answer: the same way we’d start a chess club or a drama club. In the United States, students wanting to start a GSA have the same rights and protections as any other student-led group. School administrators can’t prevent students from forming a GSA simply because of what the club might be about. The best practice would be to find out your school’s procedure for creating a club and follow that process diligently.

Also, note that most GSAs begin informally. For example, teachers, counselors, social workers, or paraprofessionals might create informal, safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ youth and friends to come together. Sometimes, students will decide to make a formal club, and sometimes, they receive all the support they need from these informal gatherings.

Whether through a formal club or an informal safe space, forming a Gender-Sexuality Alliance is an outstanding way to support LGBTQIA+ youth. To learn more, contact us. And, if your school has a GSA, tell us about it in the comments below.

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