“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 Schmidt-Kost as a part of Everyone Is Gay: Second Opinions
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.
Everyone Is Gay has started a new project to help parents who have LGBTQ kids: Check out The Parents Project!