Research demonstrates that your students will be safer and more successful if they have access to a GSA.
So how do you start or support one?
Below are some answers to some Frequently Asked Questions that GSA sponsors have.
We also encourage teachers to contact our office with specific questions at any time.
A student came to me wanting to start a GSA. What do I do?
If you have the time and energy to do so, we encourage you to agree to serve as sponsor or co-sponsor for a GSA or Pride Club, especially if students are struggling to find another teacher to serve as sponsor.
GSAs are life-affirming and life-saving spaces, and we believe that every student should have access to a GSA. For more information on how GSAs can protect and empower your students, check out this study that demonstrates that suicide risks were lowered for all students with access to GSAs, and read this research brief from GLSEN (the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network) on how research shows that GSAs make schools safer.
As for the logistics of starting a GSA, it is the same as with any other extracurricular club at your school. Teaching Tolerance offers a great 10-step guide to starting a GSA at your school. See below for how to respond to administrative push-back.
Our GSA is experiencing push-back from administration. How do I respond?
Your students’ right to a GSA is protected by law. Specifically, the Equal Access Act of 1984 guarantees students’ rights to organize any extracurricular club if at least one extracurricular club exists at your school. For a school administration to legally deny your students the right to form a GSA, they would need to forfeit students’ rights to all extracurricular groups–meaning that Chess Club, Interact, and the Future Farmers of America would also need to be disbanded.
While the Equal Access Act provides your GSA students with legal protection to form a club, it does not guarantee active support from your principal or school board. We encourage you and your students to foster constructive relationships with supportive community stakeholders, including other teachers, staff members, parents, and welcoming houses of worship.
How do I make my GSA welcoming for all students?
A GSA should be a space where all students feel safe to be who they are. For many students, GSA is the only space that affirms their life experiences, emotions, and identities as valid. They may face bullying and harassment in the locker room, hallway, classroom, or dinner table, but at GSA, they should experience the warmth of a loving and accepting community of their peers. As sponsor, you can play an active role in fostering such a community.
In fostering an affirming space, it’s important to act intentionally and speak explicitly about the students you seek to support. Students who need support due to their perceived or actual gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation will oftentimes be grappling with other issues as well.
For example, a student of color who faces bullying due to actual or perceived sexual orientation may also face bullying due to their actual or perceived race or ethnicity.
As a a GSA sponsor, it’s important that you work to make all students feel welcome at GSA, be they black, brown, Latinx, Native American, undocumented, disabled, Muslim, or come from any other marginalized community.
Please see below for more information on how to support students who have various identities that may be misunderstood or marginalized by society.
What does a GSA do? What should it do?
The student body of each school is unique, so each GSA is going to have different needs and priorities. One way of learning about the needs of your GSA is to look through this resource from GSA Network National as a group.
Some students come to their first GSA meeting with the confidence and energy to organize a march, plan a rally, or engage in some other type of public activism. Other students are in need of a space where they can have calm, meaningful, and supportive discussions about the transphobia, homophobia, or racism that they deal with in the classroom, locker room, or living room.
Still other students want a space where they can be social with peers whom they know will accept them for who they are. They may wish to plan social events such as an LGBTQ friendly prom, a Night of Noise, or a movie night.
Having conversations as a club about who has which priorities and why can make sure your GSA engages in activities that meets the needs of its participants–whether they are social, activist, or support based.
Our GSA struggles with low membership. How can I help?
Nothing can feel quite as demoralizing to a club as low rates of participation. That’s why its important to focus first on building a solid base membership of your GSA, so that students know, respect, and appreciate their fellow club members. Once that is achieved, planning large events or parties becomes much more feasible.
One common cause of low participation in one club is that students are busy with many other clubs. Does your GSA meet the same time as Interact, Chess Club, or the National Honors Society? If so, consider changing to a schedule that would allow for more students to actively attend. If your club meets after school, consider the possibility that some closeted students cannot attend as they cannot disclose to their guardians why they with to stay after school.
Another potential reason for a lack of participation may be a lack of advertising. Who knows about your club? Do you have posters on the walls, and announcements over the loud-speakers? If not, consider making those changes to enhance awareness that your club exists–keeping in mind the need to maintain safety of the club’s closeted members. Consider speaking with other teachers whom you know to be supportive and give them handouts to share with students who may with to join.
One important aspect for you to consider when addressing low membership is the possibility of personality conflicts. Are all of your members close friends with one another? That may be the result of bonding through GSA activities, or it may mean that the club has turned into a clique, and others may not feel comfortable coming to a meeting.
One or more of your members may have had a falling out with other members, which may result in a reduced attendance rate by one or more parties who may wish to separate themselves from a dissolved friendship or romantic relationship.
All of these potential sources of conflict, while frustrating, happen among all types of human beings, including straight and cisgender people. In your role as sponsor you can remind your students to serve as role-models to others as they learn to navigate amicable disagreements, changes in relationship status, and the need to include new students among old friends.