“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.