Community + Activism / GSAs

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“How can I ask my school to include LGBTQ health and sex education in classes?”

Question Submitted by Anonymous

Dana Says:

Hey! So I love love love that you want to get LGBTQ-inclusive sex ed in your school because a lot of the time, this doesn’t really cross the minds of our educators—or even us as LGBTQ people! I know that as an 8th grader in an introductory health class, I had absolutely no idea what a “dental dam” was and I probably wouldn’t have known about it in my 10th grade health class either if I hadn’t already searched it up. In any case, LGBTQ individuals deserve inclusive sex ed, so damn it, we’ve gotta try our best to get it.

Before you ask your school to get an LGBTQ-inclusive sex ed curriculum, you need to have all your arguments, evidence, etc in order, so I’ve compiled a badass list (if I do say so myself) to help you do so!

Evaluate the current state of your health curriculum
Odds are that if your school is enforcing abstinence-only education, they’re probably not going to be so keen on considering LGBTQ-inclusive sex ed. You can do this by simply asking health students what they have learned, or referring to your old health notes if you have already taken the class. If your school is able to educate students about the ol’ penis-in-vagina method, then they should be able to teach them about other forms of sex as well.

Check up on your state’s standard health education curriculum
Go online to your state’s department of education website to find out whether your school is actually following the state guidelines. This has the potential to contribute a lot to your argument for LGBTQ-inclusive health classes; if the state says LGBTQ-inclusivity is the standard health curriculum, then why isn’t your school’s health curriculum up to par? If you find that your school is indeed failing to follow the guidelines, you should TOTALLY take that information to your state’s Board of Education.

Gather some queer-er data!
A great way to see what your health curriculum specifically needs is by asking your queer peers what they want to learn. Maybe they want to learn about anal sex, or oral sex, or the different ways you can protect yourself from STI’s when in a same-sex relationship, because oftentimes a lot of us queers have no clue how to go about understanding all of that. So ask away!

Gather your troops
By this, I mean gather a few of your friends who are just as passionate about the cause so you can set up a meeting with your health teachers and/or the administration to talk about it. If you know any supportive parents or faculty who will join you in setting this meeting up, that will definitely add much-needed fuel to the fire!

Start a petition, get attention!
If the administration refuses to meet with you, start a petition among your student body, and perhaps even reach out to the local news outlets. Go nuts!

Ask LGBTQ health-related questions
If you’re asking questions that require answers, your teacher(s) will be forced to come up with an answer (or find that they lack one entirely). More often than not, health teachers don’t have enough knowledge on safe sex to provide students with accurate answers. In the asking, you’ll either be getting more information for all of your peers, or alerting your teacher to the fact that they need to learn more about LGBTQ issues!

Take matters into your own hands
You can’t teach in your school because you probably don’t have any kind of teaching degree, but you can reconvene with your troops and study up on as much you can find about LGBTQ sexual health. If the teachers aren’t going to teach, then you are going to have to spread the word about safe, sane, and consensual queer sex (say that five times fast!) as best as you can. Laci Green on YouTube, Autostraddle, Girl Sex 101 by Allison Moon, Scarleteen, and even your state’s LGBTQ research center (if you have one) are all great resources to get you started btw! Rather than proclaiming “the prostate gland is often found in AMAB (assigned male at birth) individuals and can be a major pleasure center if stimulated!” down a crowded hallway, educate on smaller levels, like at a GSA meeting. A lot of the kids who want/need LGBTQ-inclusive health education are probably already in the school GSA.

When playing GSM (Gender/Sexual Minority) Jeopardy with my school GSA, I slip in a lot of random LGBTQ health facts so they learn something in a fun and lighthearted environment. For example, one of the questions was “What is a dental dam (or what I like to call, a dental “damn” ;D), and how is it used?” Because none of them knew, I ended up explaining what it was and its purpose, which definitely opened up their eyes to the world of STIs and sexual safety. Smaller-scale things like this definitely make a big difference if your school is consistently refusing to incorporate LGBTQ-inclusive sex education.

Last but not least, be patient yet still persistent
A lot of school officials aren’t as ready and willing as you are to get an LGBTQ-inclusive health curriculum for a multitude of reasons. The administration may be afraid of angry parents demanding why their teenager came home wanting to know more about safe anilingus, or the administration could be controlled by the state government, making it even more difficult to alter the curriculum, or perhaps they’re just not supportive of anything LGBTQ-related. The bottom line is, stay patient and stay persistent.

If all else fails, civil disobedience in the form of a sit-in at your school could definitely raise some eyebrows (and probably some blood pressures). That’s just my personal endgame, though, haha. Anyway, best of luck!

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“I am the president of the GSA at my high school and I’d like to do some volunteer work with the club related to LGBT issues. We live in a small, rural area and we can’t really travel to a larger city. I’m having a hard time finding much. What kind of stuff can we do?”

-Question submitted by Anonymous

Dana Says:

Firstly, nice job landing president of your GSA! Now lets get into it.

You don’t have to travel to a larger city in order to do LGBT related volunteer work because there are volunteer opportunities all around you– you just have to think a bit further out of the box. For example, you could collaborate on projects with other school GSAs in the school district. Most schools have their own websites that detail all the aspects of the school’s academics, athletics, and extracurriculars, so perhaps search up a few schools around you, browse their sites, see if any LGBT related clubs are in their club listings, and then figure out how to get in contact with any GSAs you come across. Then, discuss with the student leader(s) how you’d want to volunteer or start a project together.

Now, I understand that when someone says they want to do volunteer work, they usually mean that they physically want to do something (i.e. volunteering at a homeless shelter, a soup kitchen, etc). However, I’ve learned that volunteering doesn’t always need to be 100% hands on; raising awareness and support goes a long way. A school in my area holds an annual “Café Night” to raise awareness and money for LGBT issues and organizations. The whole event is basically dinner and a show; the members of the GSA and any volunteers cook food, bring drinks, decorate the gym, the whole sha-bang. Then, there are signups for performers to showcase whatever talent they have, be it slam poetry or avocado juggling. During the week leading up to the night until the night itself, there are ticket sales, and all the proceeds go towards whichever organization they choose. It’s pretty damn cool honestly and I think it works really well in most schools. BUT if you’re having doubts about whether it will work for your school in particular (because of the GSA size or school size or tolerance level), let me wrench out some more ideas for you.

Day. Of. Silence. The Day of Silence is definitely something that will raise a TON of awareness at your school. If you don’t know already, the Day of Silence is an annual event created by GLSEN in which people (mostly adolescents) take a daylong vow of silence to bring attention to LGBT youth who have been silenced due to bullying and harassment. Having your GSA partake in the Day of Silence is definitely a great form of LGBT volunteer work. I currently run a GSA and have been doing so for the last two years, and we also did the Day of Silence. It started out with only the club members taking the vow of silence, but as the day progressed, more and more people wanted to take the vow as well (there were also some bandwagoners but oh well what can ya do).

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Pictured: me holding up a “What will You do to end the silence?” poster, also holding a sharpie and roll of duct tape in my right hand for people who wanted to participate last minute, and also sweating profusely because it was a lot of damn people.

Another great thing you could do is help out (and of course, raise awareness for) LGBT homeless youth. Life is hard, man. Parents disown, kick out, and cut off their children all the time simply because they are queer and/or trans, and that’s not okay. This is where LGBT homeless youth centers come into play. They’re really helpful in providing a safe place for youth to sleep and eat, but a lot of the time they could use an extra hand, and that’s where you come in. Have a bake sale (rainbow cupcakes are a must, I’d assume) or some other kind of food sale to raise money for a particular LGBT homeless youth center! Rather than just donating the money to the center, use it to purchase ample supplies for the kids living there like school supplies, warm clothes (if you live in a cooler area), gloves, socks (these are really overlooked when it comes to necessary clothing) etc, all in which can be shipped/ brought to the center of your choosing on your GSA’s behalf.

Last thing (I swear): Put your heads together. Whether there are five people or fifty people in your GSA, brainstorming volunteer ideas is always a good way to really understand what the club’s limits are in reference to what you can and cannot do. I bet you guys have great potential and you seem like a pretty rad leader, so I wish you all the best. Good luck!

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“Hi, my friend Martin and I are looking to start an LGBT youth group in a small town in Georgia. We both had GSA’s in our high schools when we lived in Wisconsin and want to start one here since neither of the high schools have one here. It will be outside school; we are looking into using library space. We also won’t be asking for donations, so we won’t have to claim as a non-profit. But one challenge we do face is that we are 19 and 20. Do you have any advice for us?”

-Question submitted by loundhazza and answered by Sara Kost as a part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions

Sara says:

Thanks for writing! I think it’s great that you’re looking to start an LGBT youth group, especially in a rural area where access to information about LGBT communities can be limited or nonexistent. Your idea about using a library space is a good one. Libraries are a great place to meet for free or limited cost, and they provide good cover for any youth who isn’t out or has homophobic family. I mean, what parent wouldn’t want their child to go to the library more?

I suggest you begin by thinking about what your group will look like. What do you want the youth to get by attending your group? Do you want an educational space? Social? Activist? A mix of all three? Early on ask your youth members what they’d like to get out of the meetings. Your youth members’ needs may be different from your own. Pay attention to that. As Youth Leaders, you should attend to your members’ needs first; their needs are most important.

I asked a few students from my GSA for their advice, and they told me that they think you should start your youth group slowly. Don’t jump right in and start talking about really heavy topics like bullying or depression or suicide, even if your group wants to talk about those kind of topics right away. Get to know your members and build a trusting community first. My students said that their favorite thing about our GSA is that we are a very close community because we spend a lot of time at the beginning of the school year playing games and doing ice-breaking activities to get to know one another. Even though some of my students were confused why we weren’t doing more LGBT related things, they understood by the end of the school year how important that getting-to-know-you process was. Once we created a positive and supportive group, then we moved on to heavier things.

Also think about how to create a safe space for your members. I recommend you create some norms and expectations to read at the beginning of each meeting so that the youth will understand what behavior you expect from them. Things like “What’s said at the meeting stays at the meeting,” or “Pay attention and be respectful when others are speaking,” or “Speak your truth and assume good intentions,” or “Everyone is at different levels of learning and sharing.” And maybe create a contingency plan for any drama or conflict that might occur and what you as leaders can do to resolve conflict.

Don’t let your age or lack of experience deter you from making a great youth group. Use the knowledge you gained through the GSA’s at your high schools to guide you to create the space your youth members need it to be. Your meetings don’t have to be formal or even strictly planned out for your members to get a lot out of them. A sense of community, camaraderie, and support are the most important things you can provide to your youth members.

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“So I was talking with a girl in my theatre class the other day, and she’s interested in starting a GSA (or something similar) at our school. She’s a senior and I’m a freshman. I’m totally interested, and I even know a teacher who I’m pretty sure would be willing to be involved. But A) we live in a fairly conservative rural community and B) I’m only out to a couple friends. Help?”

- Question submitted by Anonymous and answered by Anna Livia Chen as a part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions

Anna Livia Says:

I think in these types of situations, it’s really important to think about what your goals and vision are, and then proceed from there.

A lot of times, the activism community hammers in this idea that you have to go whole hog and completely revolutionize your school–or circle of friends or family or church or whatever group you are trying to impact. And while I think this is a powerful idea, it can be pretty hard to achieve, and, in my opinion, isn’t always the best way to go about things. It takes so much courage and gumption to take any kind of action in your situation (by the way, major, major props and snaps for that), I don’t want you to ever think that you aren’t doing enough by starting small.

All that being said, you don’t have to start small!! You can start at whatever scope you want to—but really take some time to think about what you want to accomplish or create through starting this club. Do you want to start a big, radical movement to make your campus the most progressive high school in the state and make it onto GLSEN’s front page? Do you want to form a club that acts as a support and community group that is a resource for people who feel marginalized by the heteronormativity of high school?  Do you want to create a group that raises some queer issues to the greater campus community, but isn’t necessarily demanding systemic reforms like gender-neutral bathrooms and changes to curricula? This question about vision is the thing that I think is most important to contemplate and consider before moving forward.

But don’t forget!! Your answer doesn’t have to be fully formed or permanent. It, like everything, can be fluid. You can have one vision today and then change it in a year or a semester or a month or even a week. You can have a general inkling of what you want and begin to move forward on that, then further flesh out your vision once you start the actual process. You might want to start small but once you actually do start, you realize you want to achieve more. Or, you might have a huge vision but then realize it is too overwhelming to do all at once. Your goals and your vision can totally change over time, but it is important to think about them before and while you begin this process–and to keep checking in with them once your club is up and running.

Thinking about what you want your club to look like will help you with the other parts of your question. It sounds like you are a little nervous about involving yourself  because you aren’t out to very many people and are afraid of what people will think of you and the club because of the conservative nature of your area. These concerns are totally valid and I think they will be very useful for helping you decide what you want your vision to be. In addition, if you don’t want starting this club to have a big impact on how others see you, you can get creative and think of some ways to circumvent that. FOR EXAMPLE:

1. You could enlist some other friends and embark on this club-making party together. That makes it a lot harder for you to be singled out—and some of the people in the group will probably be straight, meaning your personal identity won’t be automatically implicated by your involvement.

2. You can start a club that is more under the radar. Rather than making a huge deal out of it in the school bulletin or with posters around the school, tell some of your friends, have the information diffuse, and the people who want to be there will find their way to your meetings—the haters probably won’t actually know your name is connected to it, so they can’t hurt you that way. This would work better if you want your club to be a support/community group, but you could still use this strategy to get the ball rolling with an advocacy group, then make it more public as you start doing events and have some more people behind you.

3. You can always go the whole “DIVERSITY CLUB OF HAPPINESS” route. Maybe not that exact title… but the point is that you don’t have to advertise your safe space as a GAYGAYGAY-Straight Alliance. A lot of clubs, even in progressive areas, will use other names to diffuse the notion that you have to be gay to be in the club. You can do something gay/rainbow related (Spectrum, Prism, and Rainbow Club are some that I have heard), or you can make it even more broad/vague. The space is still serving the role of a GSA, but this frames it in a little more discrete for you—and for other people who may want to be members but are nervous about the title.

The last thing I want you to think about is to remember your resources. No matter where you live, you will always have some resources to use to your advantage in making your vision a reality. Whether it is a few supportive teachers that will advocate for you against hesitant administrators; some friends to help spread the word and attend meetings; or even your legal rights (WHICH ARE REALLY IMPORTANT, GUYS), don’t forget that you are not alone in this.

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