Social support in school increases student resilience, including in dealing with difficult interactions such as bullying and harassment (Swanson & Gettinger, 2016). Participation in GSAs in school has been shown to increase adolescents’ sense of agency, their “belief in [their] capacity to initiate and sustain actions (Poteat et al., 2016a, p. 1447).” In fact, that increase of agency occurs for LGBTQ+ and heterosexual youth who are involved in GSAs (Poteat et al., 2016a).
Another benefit of socialization across school groups is that such socialization reduces prejudice and increases allyship throughout the school (Chong et al., 2019). Participation in conversations about gender, sexuality, and race leads to greater self-efficacy as well as mutual understanding (Chong et al., 2019).
When GSAs ensure that they foster open, respectful environments, they encounter increased student engagement (Poteat et al., 2016b). One GSA opened each meeting with an introduction including preferred gender pronouns, showing respect to the fact that pronouns can be fluid (Elliott, 2016).
Social support in the community provides for GSA students a sense of connection with a larger LGBTQ+ network than exists in the school alone. This connection serves students by broadening their source of resilience, their access to education and knowledge, and providing opportunities for advocacy.
Put on a queer prom – make it affordable, to avoid financial barriers from preventing attendance (Hint: Seek out community sponsors) (Porta et al., 2017)
Host movie screenings (Porta et al., 2017)
Start a social media group to connect outside of school (Porta et al., 2017)
Host a book club (Underhill, 2017)
Have a “Bring a Friend” day, to introduce new members to the club, and expand your club’s school associations. (Similarly, have a “Bring a Teacher” day where each member asks a teacher to join them at the meeting) (Starting Your GSA, n.d.)
One GSA would take time for members to share any “Big Gay Moments” they had experienced since the past meeting. These could be positive or negative, but they were ways to process notable events that occurred outside the security of the group (Mayo, 2013)
Send out flyers/invitations to teachers and staff inviting them to your meetings, to help build a structure of support throughout the school – keep the invites coming, even if people don’t attend the first time, they might the 3rd, or 10th!
Ideas for Building Support in the Community
Attending GSA Regional Meetings and Conferences
Have a GSA Field Day – arrange for GSAs from all local/county schools to meet up somewhere locally; invite speakers, community members, and representatives from local LGBTQ+ organizations (Mayberry, 2012)
Provide a forum for engagement with various community members – LGBTQ+ and other issues of privilege, diversity, politics. Knowledge, advocacy, and community support all intertwine with this approach (Mayberry, 2012)
Represent your GSA in local pride festivals and parades
Team with other clubs to …
Paint a diversity mural (The GLSEN Jump-Start Guide, Part 1, n.d.)
Celebrate Black History Month
Participate in a school-based service project (painting lockers, planting trees, passing out “You Matter” stickers, …)
Chong, E. S. K., Yoshikawa, H., Poteat, P., & Calzo, J. P. (2019). Fostering youth self-efficacy to address transgender and racial diversity issues: The role of gay-straight alliances. School Psychology, 34(1):54-63. doi:10.1037/spq0000258
Elliott, K. O. (2016). Queering student perspectives: Gender, sexuality and activism in school. Sex Education, 16(1):49-62. doi:10.1080/14681811.2015.1051178
Mayberry, M. (2012). Gay-straight alliances: Youth empowerment and working toward reducing stigma of LGBT youth. Humanity & Society, 37(1):35-54. doi:10.1177/0160597612454358
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
Porta, C. M., Singer, E., Mehus, C. J., Gower, A. L., Saewyc, E., Fredkove, W., & Eisenberg, M. E. (2017). LGBTQ youth’s views on gay-straight alliances: Building community, providing gateways, and representing safety and support. Journal of School Health, 87(7):489-497. doi:10.1111/josh.12517
Poteat, V. P., Calzo, J. P., & Yoshikawa, H. (2016a, 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
Poteat, P., Heck, N. C., Yoshikawa, H., & Calzo, J. P. (2016b, December). Greater engagement among members of gay-straight alliances: Individual and structural contributors. American Educational Research Journal, 53(6):1732-1758. https://www.jstor.org/stable/44245969
Starting your GSA. (n.d.). GLSEN. https://www.glsen.org/sites/default/files/2022-01/GLSEN_GSA_Starting_A_GSA_0.pdf
Swanson, K., & Gettinger, M. (2016). Teachers’ knowledge, attitudes, and supportive behaviors toward LGBT students: Relationship to gay-straight alliances, antibullying policy, and teacher training. Journal of LGBT Youth, 13(4):326-351. doi:10.1080/19361653.2016.1185765
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