Sponsoring a GSA in a school is a terrific way to support LGBT youth and at the same time help the students educate their community.
GSA stands most commonly stands for Gender and Sexuality Alliance, and less commonly Gay-Straight Alliance (student groups have moved more to Gender and Sexuality Alliance as being more inclusive of the whole community of LGBTQIA+ and allies community).
Clubs are also sometimes called “LGBTQIA+ clubs” or a variation on that, PRYSM, etc. The students should set the name with not too much limitation.
A GSA doesn’t have to be limited to LGBTQIA+ concerns; a full-spectrum club allies with other communities and pays attention to all social justice issues.
GSAs are officially non-curricular, student-initiated and run clubs. The membership and agenda depend on the student leadership, although the sponsor can have a voice and let students know about events and opportunities for youth. To start a GSA, it is important to have student leaders. If you don’t yet, email Robert at [email protected], and we can set up a time to talk.
Some GSAs provide support for students, some are largely social clubs, some become involved in social justice activism, or educating their school community; it depends on where the student leadership wants to go, and may vary year-to-year.
For continuity, it’s important to have next year’s sponsor and student leaders established at the end of the school year.
GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network) Northern Virginia does much work with GSAs and student leaders in the area, with leadership teams, conferences, the Day of Silence, Ally Week and No Bullying Week. See their GSA Resources page here.
NOVA Pride sponsors an annual Prom for LGBTQIA+ students. Look into novapride.org in the winter and spring for updates on the upcoming prom.
Some other thoughts: 1) weekly meetings if possible, for consistency’s sake; 2) food always attracts teenagers; 3) programming is important: weekly “Joys and Concerns” giving each attendee a chance to talk, guest in-school (such as a counselor or DSS), or cross-GSA speakers can add to the experience. Follow the lead of the student leadership.
All that said, the sponsor shouldn’t be a counselor. Rather, the sponsor should take care to have a room in which to meet, club paperwork, and finances, as any club sponsor. It should be clear to students at each meeting that the sponsor is a mandated reporter, and must seek appropriate help or referral for any student who may harm themselves or others.
As for GSAs in middle schools, Fairfax county has a number of active clubs, and they are welcome.
If you would like to talk more, send Robert an email at pr[email protected] and we can set up a time to talk by phone.