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How to Start a GSA.
by eunoia January 5th 2009, 09:26 PM

How to Start a GSA
Jessie (Asylum)

A GSA (Gay-Straight Alliance) is a group of like-minded students (usually, but not always) that gather to share experiences, socialize, or organize their efforts. A GSA doesn’t have to be politically motivated, but it can be! Students in High School start clubs for a variety of reasons. Maybe you want to change your schools non-discrimination policy to include sexuality, gender identity and gender expression. Maybe you don’t need to do that, and just want to have fun! Maybe your club is there for support or education. Your group can also have a mix of all sorts of activities—lots of fun, support for the members, and organizing events like the Day of Silence. Here's a guide to get you started!

Naming your group. A common name for student clubs with a primary focus on LGBT/Queer youth is GSA. Your clubs name can be anything! Here are some I’ve heard of: Diversity Group, Rainbow Alliance, Spectrum, Queer Alliance, Alphabet Soup.

Leadership. Often the founders of the group (if you plan on reading and using this guide, that would likely be you and a few others) maintain the leadership roles once your club is started. Members may also vote for those they wish to be in leadership positions. These positions might include president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, and more.

Working alone. No offense but you are one person, trying to maintain grades, possibly working a job, maybe active in sports or other groups, and you should not try to do this alone. While it is very true you could try and succeed, it will be easier and faster to start a group with more than one person as the initial planner.

Dealing with discrimination
. It is very possible you will be met with resistance when forming this group. Be prepared. Arm yourself with statistics, facts, and your desires for what this club will be. Prepare yourself and others for the arguments, and in cases of teachers and administrators at your school trying to shut your process down, direct them to the Federal Equal Access Act (the EEA). In extreme cases, when a club is not allowed to form despite your efforts, contacting a group such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) could be helpful.

If you are being verbally harassed or threatened, notify administration. If they refuse to take action on this, involve your parents, who may then involve the police. If anyone physically threatens or assaults you, notify an adult immediately. If they refuse to take action, call the police from a school phone, a pay phone, or your cell phone immediately.

Where is the “T” in GSA?. What is trans: For information on what transgender is, i.e. definitions, check the Queer Dictionary Thread. Why should our club be trans inclusive? You might say “well, we don’t have any trans students in our school.” This might be true, and it might not. The bottom line is: it does not matter. You will not always know if another student is trans, and even if no one in your school right now is, there could always be a trans student in the future.


The Basics

Guidelines. Following the guidelines set by your school for starting a student club is the fastest and easiest way to ensure your GSA will be allowed. If you don’t know what these guidelines are, check your student handbook or ask an administrator or a faculty advisor.

Advisor(s). Most groups will need a teacher or other staff member to be the club advisor. Ask around: your favorite teacher, one known for supporting LGBT rights, or a teacher you think will support your club. Don’t get discouraged if the first person you ask says no and don’t assume it is because they don’t support queer rights—they may be too busy, already advise a club, or don’t want to advise any club. Keep looking!

Students. You can’t build an entire group alone, so now it’s time to get more students interested! At this point it will be best to approach people you know, such as your friends or closer acquaintances, and people you are sure you will be able to work with during this process. It will be best to begin with a small, core group during the planning stages, as too many people will make the process too confusing.

Administration. It’s best to let administration know very early in the process what you’ll be doing. It can be very helpful to have the administration on your side, as they can help to calm the fears of parents, teachers and other school faculty, other students, and the community outside of the school. If your administration opposes your plans, direct them to the Federal Equal Access Act (the EEA).

Space. Next you’ll need to choose a meeting space. Oftentimes an advisor will allow their student group to meet in their classroom, and librarians are usually open to student groups utilizing the library after school hours.

Plan your meeting. Planning your meeting will make it more successful. Create an agenda and specify how much time will be reserved for each thing you plan to do. Introductions, games, open forum, guest speakers, and talking about school policies are all things you can put on your agenda.

Advertise. Once your meeting is planned, your group is approved, and you have a time and space for your first meeting, advertise! Since you’re an approved student group, you will likely be allowed to hang posters, reserve a table to hand out information during lunch, and write announcements to be given during the morning. If you are not allowed to do everything that another student group does, again approach an administrator with information on the EEA.

Hold your meeting. Start with introductions every time! This may seem silly, especially if everyone knows each other, but you can add in something fun like your favorite food, just to break the ice. For your first meeting it may be a good idea to talk about why you started your group, why you need and want it, and what your hopes for the future of your GSA are.

Ground rules. Creating ground rules at your first meeting is essential. Ground rules help to ensure your club is a safe space, no one will be hurt or offended and that everyone is respectful to the other members.


Plan Ahead: Organizing and Running a GSA Meeting

Ice Breakers and Energizers. Ice Breakers can be as simple as going around the room and sharing something, like “My name is _____ and I am in grade _____,” or as complex as “Hi, name is _____, I was born in ______, my favorite food is _____, ….” Energizers are things which get people out of their seats and on their feet! Two of my favorites are the Human Knot and All My Neighbors.

Ground rules. Setting ground rules is vital. They can be as short, or as long, as your club feels necessary. Creating ground rules will ensure your group can be considered a safe space by every member. Always include respect in your club rules.

Creating goals. Students will want to know why they are there and what they can expect from the group in the future. Goals should be discussed and created by the club as a whole, not just those running the meetings.

Plan ahead. If you’re going to watch a movie with your student group, you will need to understand that unless all members are okay with watching a two hour movie in place of a meeting, it should be broken down into smaller segments, and a shortened, regular meeting should also take place. Not properly planning for events ahead of time will only make them harder to follow through on!

Also, Make sure the entire group discusses when, where and for how much time the group will meet.

Committees. Creating committees may be necessary. Two example committees would be the Day of Silence planning committee and Fun Events committee. All committees should be volunteer-based and open to anyone in the group who wishes to join, without preferential treatment.

Inviting speakers. Having guest speakers come can be a fun, educational way to utilize meeting time. While a guest speaker every meeting wouldn’t be ideal, once a month may be, depending on your group. Be sure to ask them far in advance if they will be available to come and speak and be sure to give them as much detail as possible about what topic you would like them to discuss. Share with them your agenda for that day as well as your group’s ground rules, before they arrive to speak.

Recording each meeting. Someone should record each meeting, on paper or a computer. This could be one person, appointed as the secretary, or people could take turns. This will help you to keep organized, enabling you to look back and things which were discussed.


Sample Meetings

A sample hour-long meeting agenda (first meeting):

1. Welcomes (2-5 minutes)
2. Ice breaker or Energizer (5-10 minutes)
3. Creating goals for the year (15 minutes)
4. Planning ahead for activities (20 minutes)
5. Creating Committees (5 minutes)
6. Wrap-up (2-5 minutes)

A sample hour-long meeting agenda (second meeting):

1. Welcomes (30 seconds to 1 minute)
2. Ice breaker or Energizer (5-10 minutes)
3. Review of past meeting and minutes (3 minutes)
4. Review of goals (5 minutes)
5. Planning ahead for activities: individual committee “meetings” (20 minutes)
6. Reports from Committees (5 minutes)
7. New Business (10 minutes)
8. Wrap-up (30 seconds to 1 minute)

A sample hour-long meeting agenda (third meeting):

1. Welcomes (30 seconds to 1 minute)
2. Ice breaker or Energizer (5-10 minutes)
3. Review of past meeting and minutes (3 minutes)
4. Reports from Committees (5 minutes)
5. Guest Speaker and discussion with speaker (30 minutes)
6. New Business (10 minutes)
7. Wrap-up (30 seconds to 1 minute)

Last edited by eunoia; April 15th 2010 at 06:07 AM. Reason: Updating.
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