A GSA (gay-straight alliance or gender-sexuality alliance) is a club that focuses on the LGBT community. GSAs can demonstrate this focus in a variety of ways, between discussion topics that focus on queer issues, being actively involved in their school and community, or simply providing a safe space for the members of the LGBT community (and its allies). GSAs can be incredibly important to the development of queer teenagers, and having one in each school can help create a support system that they may not have otherwise had. Being a part of a GSA is not just being a part of a club, it is being a part of a support network, an education system, a group of friends, a family.
One key reason that GSAs are necessary is that they can be educational. For most of my life, I knew that I was different in that I never quite felt comfortable with what are thought to be “normal” activities for girls and having crushes on boys. However, I never managed to explore my identity beyond these thoughts and I never assumed my identities were different than what my parents had told me. As a result, I walked into my first GSA meeting believing I was there as an ally. It was not until I was educated on the LGBT community that I realized I identified among it. GSAs can provide vital information to questioning students, they can help them explore identities and possibly find the ones that suit them. Learning about the LGBT community is different for many people because, more often than not, the child in question does not have an LGBT parent. Therefore, the child must learn about the community him or herself, and a very simple way to do that is through the GSA at school.
In addition to providing education for questioning people, a GSA can also help provide education for allies. There are many people who simply do not understand the LGBT community, and need a safe space to ask questions and learn more. This in turn allows a safe place for LGBT people to express their opinions and explain their viewpoint to allies. GSAs allow a space for conversation and understanding to take place. LGBT people often lack safe spaces to express their ideas and identities, and GSAs can give that to students who may not have anyone or anywhere else to turn. Having a GSA can help LGBT students explore themselves and have a safe space to do so, as well as educate people in general about the LGBT community.
GSAs can also be crucial to making schools more inclusive. The GSA at our school has made great strides in changing our school environment for queer people. Our GSA has had several meetings with various teachers and members of the administration to change policies within the school. Through the GSA and its members, our school gained gender-neutral bathrooms, a channel in which transgender students can have their names and pronouns changed in the school system and a more friendly and welcoming environment. My GSA also gives presentations to teachers each year about how to approach sexuality and gender identity in the classroom, as well as how to develop better communication with queer students about their preferred names and pronouns.
However, even if a GSA is not active in the school or community, the fact that the club exists in a school environment can help questioning and closeted students feel more comfortable coming to school and exploring their sexuality. If your school does not have a GSA, start one! Reach out to a trusted teacher or member of the administration about creating the club, or about how your existing GSA can become more involved.
Emmah Evangelista, 18, is a freshman at George Washington University majoring in political science. They hope to continue to be proactive in the LGBT community throughout their college years.