This article was originally published on teach.com on July 2020.
In the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, students at one local high school have started what they call “Milk and Cookies Club.” Each week, the students meet after school, bring milk and cookies and watch a queer movie or YouTube show. The club, which pays homage to LGBTQ icon Harvey Milk, was a creative way for queer students and allies to establish a safe and supportive space in their school, often called gender sexuality alliances (GSAs).
“GSAs are proven to increase the quality of life at school for queer kids,” said Rebecca York of Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders (SMYAL), a nonprofit organization in D.C. that is dedicated to empowering LGBTQ youth. As a community engagement and youth leadership manager, York works to build and maintain GSAs in the community.
“[GSAs are] proven to reduce risk factors for queer and trans youth, those risk factors being bullying, harassment, even things like intimate partner violence,” York said.
In a 2016 NIH study about the protective role GSAs have on LGBTQ students, researchers found that a presence of a GSA in a high school resulted in not only fewer incidences of bullying and victimization of LGBTQ students but also lower levels of victimization for all students.
But a successful GSA requires parents, educators, students, counselors and administrators to be able to effectively navigate a candid dialogue about why these organizations matter and should be prepared to encounter pushback.
What Is a Gender Sexuality Alliance?
A gender sexuality alliance is an LGBTQ-affirming organization run by students. These organizations, which have chapters in middle and high schools all across the country, provide a sense of community and a safe space for queer and trans youth to interact and drive social change. GSAs can focus on a combination of social interaction, community issues and activism. According to GLSEN’s 2017 National School Climate Survey (PDF, 8.4 MB), more than half of LGBTQ students are enrolled in schools with a GSA.
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