Having an engaged faculty advisor is a strong contributor to GSA success.
The presence of a GSA in a school provides support even to LGBTQ+ students who don’t attend any GSA meetings, by serving as an acknowledgement that the school has an LGBTQ+ community (Mayo, 2013).
However, LGBTQ+ advocates recognize that not all GSAs provide the same degree of support to their students (Poteat et al., 2015). There is a large amount of variance in how GSAs are run, from sponsor involvement, to the types of activities the GSA members engage in (Poteat et al., 2015).
Several factors that have been shown to increase the beneficial effects of GSAs on LGBTQ+ members include having a set organizational structure and an engaged faculty advisor (Poteat et al., 2016; Underhill, 2017). The GSA sponsoring faculty member might want to help train student GSA leaders in how to organize, plan, and run their GSA (Sutherland, 2019). This arrangement allows for the GSA to benefit from structure and oversight while also helping develop student agency.
GSAs can also serve to help allies learn how to vocally support the LGBTQ+ community. A male student ally at one school said:
“[The GSA] has equipped me with confidence to convey my message about sexual orientation and gender issues. I can now converse openly, with intelligence. Before [attending the GSA], I got sucked into society’s homophobia, but I will no longer be a bystander .”Mayo, 2013
Advice for Advisors
Work with other diversity organizations. Try and keep administration, faculty, staff and students updated as to your activities. Try to work with all people rather than against.”
~ Fletcher McNeill, GLOW of Garrison Forest School (GLSEN Jump-Start Guide, Part 1, n.d.)
“Build a supportive network of adults at your school so that students have more contacts/places where they feel safe. Allow student members to drive the mission of the group – they may want to be activists, or they may just need to direct their energies toward supporting each other. Even if attendance dwindles, keep publicizing the group and its meetings. Just reading about its existence in the bulletin once a week might be enough to let an LGBT youth know there’s someone out there who cares.“
~ Gayle Brickert-Albrecht, Tucson High Magnet School (GLSEN Jump-Start Guide, Part 1, n.d.)
Additionally, GSAs can have different goals, to include: advocacy (in the school and in the community); educating members on LGBTQ+ history, on available resources, on the law, etc; peer support through the school; and individual support in times of difficulty. While different GSAs will focus on these areas to different degrees, the areas interrelate – open discussions and education can lead to peer support, and peer support and knowledge can lead to advocacy (Stonefish & Lafreniere, 2015).
The curriculum section of this site contains an initial 10-meeting jump-start guide to help GSAs, whatever their chosen focus, acknowledge and introduce such important issues as peer support, family acceptance, community engagement and connections, and advocacy. Additionally, there is an initial guide to meeting starters.
One tip to help define your meeting structure is opening each meeting with a predetermined set of activities. These can include introductions with preferred pronouns, reviewing the group ground rules, and summarizing the last meeting.
Each additional section discusses the importance of one facet of GSA focus (such as advocacy, education, or peer support), with some suggested meeting topics and links to related external curricular resources.
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Mayo, J. B. (2013). Critical pedagogy enacted in the gay-straight alliance: New possibilities for a third space in teacher development. Educational Researcher, 42(5):266-275. https://www.jstor.org/stable/23462392
Poteat, V. P., Calzo, J. P., Mundy-Shepherd, A., Scheer, J. R., Yoshikawa, H., Gray, M. L., Lipkin, A., Perrotti, J., & Shaw, M. P. (2015). Contextualizing gay-straight alliances: Student, advisor, and structural factors related to positive youth development among members. Child Development, 86(1):176-193. doi:10.1011/cdev.12289
Poteat, V. P., Calzo, J. P., & Yoshikawa, H. (2016, January 18). Promoting youth agency through dimensions of gay-straight alliance involvement and conditions that maximize associations. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 45:1438-1451. doi:10.1007/s10964-016-0421-6
Stonefish, T. & Lafreniere, K. D. (2015). Embracing diversity: The dual role of gay-straight alliances. Canadian Journal of Education, 38(4). https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1086834.pdf
Sutherland, D. K. (2019). The push for transgender inclusion: Exploring boundary spanning in the gay-straight alliance. Sociology Compass, 13:e12739. doi:10.1111/soc4.12739
The GLSEN jump-start guide, part 1: Building and activating your GSA or similar student club. (n.d.). GLSEN. https://www.eqfl.org/sites/default/files/Jumpstart1.pdf
Underhill, C. (2017). Navigating spaces: Moving along the (dis)enfranchisement spectrum through a high school GSA. Theory in Action, 10(4):89-99. doi:10.3798/tia.1937-0237.1728