Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) Clubs are student clubs that allow students with a common interest to get together and have events or discussions about that interest. GSA clubs are made up of students of any sexual orientation; in fact many GSA members are straight-identifying youth. In these clubs, students can talk and learn about issues that surround sexual orientation and gender identity. The clubs are set up like any other student group, with a faculty advisor and regular meetings. Everyone is welcome—LGBTQ students, as well as straight-identifying students, students with LGBTQ families, and students who don’t have or need a label for their own sexual orientations or gender identities.
GSAs play a vital role in making schools safe for LGBTQ students by providing supportive and accepting spaces. Research has underscored how having a GSA in school was related to more positive experiences for LGBT students, including hearing fewer homophobic remarks, less victimization because of sexual orientation and gender expression, less absenteeism because of safety concerns and a greater sense of belonging in the school community. Depending on a GSA’s mission and goals which is decided by students and guided by GSA advisors, the club usually has one of three common goals which will meet the different needs of you in different types of school climates.
- Social GSAs are generally helpful for youth trying to meet other LGBTQ and ally students and make friends.
- Support GSAs are for students who are trying to create safe spaces to talk about the various issues they face
- Advocate GSAs are for those students who are actively working to improve their school climate
Under the Federal Equal Access Act a public school permitting any noncurricular club must also allow students to form a GSA. In addition, according to the Equal Access Act, a school must treat the GSA the same as it does any noncurricular club in terms of access to facilities, resources and opportunities to advertise.
The GSA Network is a great resource for information. Go to http://gsanetwork.org/resources
The GSA Advisor’s Role
A GSA advisor may need to fulfill multiple roles. Adaptability is key! GSA advisors might expect to provide regular opportunities for skill building, leadership and learning., support students in fostering a safe environment for all students, assist students in managing club funds, educate and support students in keeping records, support changes within the GSA, etc.
It is important that a GSA advisor remember four guiding principles when supporting students as they run their GSA.
They are 1) youth leadership, 2) youth empowerment, 3) building for the future, 4) appropriate boundaries.
Always remember that gay-straight alliances exist for students to have a safe place to be themselves and to have an organized way to reduce homophobia and transphobia in their schools. As a student-led club, the GSA must always be directed by students with adults supporting their ideas and leadership
Making sure that students have the skills and confidence to run their club is a critical part of the work a GSA advisor does. Building the capacity of students to run their club, think critically, and plan effectively will not only ensure that your GSA is run well, it will also help build the confidence and abilities of your students.
Building for the Future
The GSA advisor is one of the most constant and stable parts of your GSA. It is important to help the current students think, plan and act not just for this school year or the next, but also for many years down the road. An advisor can help students build for the future by raising funds for next year, creating strong structures in the club that will ensure consistent and good student leadership, or creating an archive of GSA records, events, campaigns and actions so that the future leaders have access to the history of the club.
It is very important that an advisor working with youth maintain a supportive and healthy relationship with the students in the GSA. School professionals working directly with students are state mandated reporters. It is the advisor’s responsibility to know what it means to be a mandated reporter. Other boundaries that are school policy must be clear and reviewed by the advisor. It is best to let students know and remind them where these boundaries fall so that no miscommunication occurs.