4 Tips for a Top GSA

My name is Desiree Raught, and I am GLSEN's 2015 Educator of the Year. As both a Gay-Straight Alliance Sponsor for McKinley Tech High School in Washington, D.C., and an LGBT Liaison for my school district, I have learned -- and am excited to share -- a number of tips that can help Gay-Straight Alliances make schools safer and more supportive for all students: a commitment that remains a top priority for me.

1. Partner with School Administration

Did you know that federal law protects students' right to form a GSA in public high schools? This is a valuable protection since GSAs have a positive impact on school climate, according to GLSEN's most recent National School Climate Survey, a biennial report on the experiences of LGBT youth in schools. This knowledge helps ensure that we can be effective advocates for our students and club members. Here at McKinley, we have been able to partner with our administrative team in the many benefits our GSA offers to our school and the community around us. That partnership is an integral part of our success.

2. Register on GLSEN.org

At McKinley, our GSA's first step was to register on GLSEN.org. Registration with GLSEN ensures that GSAs and similar student clubs have the latest and best resources, like the GSA Advisor Webinar, which can be found on GLSEN's GSA webpage. Registration also ensures that GLSEN can count students' voices and actions among the movement's efforts.

3. Be Visible from the Start

One of the largest benefits of our club is the leadership and activism skills developed by our student leaders. At the beginning of every school year, our GSA sets the tone for our entire school by posting flyers and setting up a display in the school's main hallway, using data from GLSEN's most recent National School Climate Survey to convey the importance of our club. By being visible in the school, we send the message that our club and its mission are an integral part of our school culture.
I also send an email to all school staff, like I do before every major GLSEN event, and many staff post our flyers in their rooms to show support. In my own classroom, I set up a GSA resource center to maintain the club's visibility throughout the year

4. Participate in GLSEN's Ally Week

GLSEN's Ally Week, which takes place between September 28 and October 2 this year, is a national dialogue about how everyone can work to become better allies to LGBT youth. At McKinley, our GSA uses data from GLSEN's most recent National School Climate Survey to create Public Service Announcement-style flyers that emphasize why everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity and expression, should join our club.

Using GLSEN's Ally Week resources, we also develop a school-wide advisory lesson plan and send it to all advisory teachers, asking them kindly to consider presenting the lesson and offering them a sign-up sheet for students interested in our GSA. From there, we begin hosting meetings through the use of an online email system and newsletter.

At McKinley, taking advantage of GLSEN's Ally Week lets our GSA partner with our school poetry club to present an after-school Voices of Allies performance event, bringing more new members into our club.

GSAs across the country are doing such great work, and these tips only scratch the surface of how GSAs can help ensure safe and supportive schools for all students. At McKinley, our GSA's use of GLSEN resources profoundly affected school culture, and other GSAs can use these resources to create change, too. - See more here.

This article was originally published on the GLSEN blog.