Getting your GSA off the ground
Starting a GSA may seem like a big task at first, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are some general guidelines that will make the process a little easier for you:
Follow your school’s procedures and rules for starting a student club. If you don’t, it can be used as an excuse to deny the formation of your group.
Look in your student handbook, talk to a student government rep or ask a school administrator to guide you on your school’s regulations and policies.
- Be sure to find out if you’ll need written permission to start the club or whether you’ll need to get a teacher or school advisor to come to the meetings. You may also need to register with the school administration or write a constitution or mission statement.
- Ask for advice. Find out if other schools in your area have GSAs, and call or email their advisors or leaders. For an up-to-date list of GSAs across the country, visit the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network at www.glsen.org. The Gay-Straight Alliance Network offers a national directory of statewide organizations that work with GSAs and other resources for starting a GSA.
- Take safety into consideration. Determine how safe it is for students to be out or to be allies (a term which usually describes non-LGBTQ people who are supportive of LGBTQ equality) at your school. This will help you arrange an appropriate meeting place and determine the best ways to let people know about the group. Some students might feel a little afraid or uncomfortable about attending a meeting. So whether you decide to meet in a classroom or away from the school entirely, the meeting space must make GSA members feel safe.
- Spread the word. Tell LGBT-friendly teachers, guidance counselors, school social workers and the school nurse. They may know other students who are interested in attending the meeting and may be in a position to encourage them to go. They might also want to come to a meeting as a guest speaker or serve as the club’s advisor. Tell anyone else you think will be helpful or who can let other students know about the GSA. Try to identify at least a couple of students who you know will attend the first meeting.
- At the first meeting, food can help break the ice and encourage students who were “just stopping by” to stay. Once people have settled in, begin with introductions and a discussion of why you organized the meeting. Share any information you’ve learned about GSAs in your area. Before deciding on your goals, give everyone a chance to talk about why they came and what they would like the GSA to do. Don’t be too discouraged if not that many kids show up for the first meeting or if it doesn’t go exactly as you planned. It may take a few meetings for more people to feel comfortable attending and for the group to really get established. Anyone who does come can help spread the word for the next meeting.
- Establish ground rules. At a minimum, everyone at the meeting should agree to confidentiality and respect.
- Stay in touch. Find a way to keep in touch with everyone. Be sure to collect email addresses or phone numbers and to set the next meeting date.
- Share the responsibilities. Keeping a club going can be a lot of work. One way to address this challenge is to get others involved in sharing responsibilities right from the start. You may want to select co-chairs or form committees, so more people can be responsible for keeping the group going.
For more information about forming a GSA at your school, contact the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) at 212-727-0135 or GLSEN's GSA page.
Contact Lambda Legal (866-542-8336 or visit www.lambdalegal.org/help) if you have questions about GSAs and your legal rights.