Creating Safer Spaces for LGBTQ Youth

Today’s post comes from BGCA’s Youth Program Design & Trends Team.

June is for warm weather, summer Club activities and LGBTQ Pride Month! In celebrating Pride Month, we are thrilled to partner with GLSEN in supporting the 16% of Club teens who identify as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transexual, or Questioning (LGBTQ). GLSEN is the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for all students, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.

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GLSEN conducts its National School Climate Survey every two years to evaluate students’ – particularly LGBTQ students’ – experiences in school. Its 2015 survey revealed that LGBTQ students are three times more likely than their non-LGBTQ peers to report that they don’t plan to finish high school. Additionally, nearly nine in 10 LGBTQ students were harassed or assaulted at school, and sexual orientation and gender expression were the most commonly cited targets in bullying incidents at school.

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GLSEN’s survey concluded that when in unsupportive or hostile environments, LGBTQ youth experience negative emotional and educational outcomes. These outcomes, however, are not exhibited when LGBTQ youth are in positive, supportive environments, which is why it is invaluable to cultivate safe spaces and support LGBTQ youth in our Clubs.

Gender Sexuality Alliances (GSAs) are a great way to provide support for LGBTQ youth in your Club. A GSA is a student-led club focusing on LGBTQ identity and advocacy. For all students – including LGBTQ students – participation in extracurricular activities is related to a number of positive outcomes, such as academic achievement and greater school engagement.

For LGBTQ youth, GSAs can:

  • Provide a safe and affirming space
  • Encourage leadership opportunities
  • Promote avenues for creating positive institutional change

To start a GSA at your Club, here are simple steps to follow!

  1. Register your GSA.
  2. Find youth leaders.
    • There may be one youth driven to create a GSA in your Club, or perhaps there is a group of LGBTQ students in your Club that need your encouragement to start a GSA.
    • Establish roles for members in the GSA. Roles can be creative and should cater to members’ interests. Your members don’t have to stick to titles such as “president” or “secretary.” Feel free to let members call themselves the “magistrate of meetings” or the “note-taking magician.”
  3. Plan your first meeting.
    • Have a discussion with your members about what they want to do during their first GSA meeting. Discuss what will make it exciting and inviting for members to create the GSA community.
    • Activities for your meeting could include a movie, a dance party, a discussion about the GSA’s goals or an icebreaker game.
    • The leaders of the GSA should also craft a plan to determine how to make their first meeting successful and how their roles support that plan.
  4. Advertise! Get the word about your first GSA meeting out! Create posters, flyers, a Facebook event and table to reach interested members.
  5. Set goals. GSA members should establish ground rules and goals. Respect should be at the forefront of your GSA’s plans. As an adult in the space, hold members accountable. Examples of ground rules include:
    • Members’ preferred pronouns must be respected.
    • What is learned at GSA is left at GSA.
    • Body shaming is not tolerated.
    • Self-care is a priority.

Safe Space

If you aren’t sure that your Club is ready for a GSA, there are still a variety of ways you can support your Club’s LGBTQ youth. GLSEN provides four supports to create inclusive schools, which can be applied to our Clubs as well:

  1. Specific policies
    • Implement comprehensive anti-bullying policy that specifically includes protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity/expression among a list of enumerated categories.
  2. Supportive Educators
    • Educators who show their support for LGBTQ students.
    • Educators who have had staff trainings on how to address anti-LGBTQ bullying.
  3. Student-led Clubs (as outlined in this blog post)
    • Support for student interventions such as Gender-Sexuality Alliance (GSA) clubs and participation in events such as the Day of Silence.
  4. Inclusive Curriculum
    • Positive representations of LGBTQ people, history and events in school curriculum or Club programming.

There are also three primary times of action in which your Club can support LGBTQ youth – Ally Week, No Name-Calling Week, and Day of Silence. Also, you can reach out to a local school or community GSA chapter to offer your Club space to host their events. There are countless ways to support LGBTQ youth, and we look forward to seeing the way you bring these ideas to your Club!

Additional GLSEN resources and GSA activities may be found here. If you are Boys & Girls Club staff, you can find the Serving LGBTQ Youth Toolkit and other great resources curated specifically for Clubs at www.bgca.net/lgbtq.

Happy Pride Month!

How have you created safe spaces for all youth at your Club? What initiatives around LGBTQ youth do you run? We want to share your stories and best practices! Email ClubXBlog@bgca.org to find out how.


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Jenn Williams is one of the amazing BGCA summer interns! She is currently a rising senior at the University of Georgia majoring in Journalism and Geography, with hopes of pursuing her Master of Public Health degree in the future. She likes running, going to comedy shows and trying out new restaurants!

 

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