The GSA study: leader narratives on best practices for Gender and Sexuality Alliance clubs

Case Studies & Research
New York
22 p.

Students have been forming Gender-Sexuality Alliance student clubs (originally known as Gay Straight Alliances, or GSAs) for over 30 years. Today, they continue to serve multiple purposes, including social support and student advocacy. Much of what is known about GSAs centers on what club participation or presence does for LGBTQ students in terms of their academic performance and mental health, or focuses on the effect of GSAs on the overall school climate. For example, GSA participation is linked to greater feelings of belonging for LGBTQ students. The presence of a GSA improves the overall school climate for LGBTQ students. Benefits associated with GSA presence positively affect non-LGBTQ students as well. Despite growing insights on the effects of GSAs, limited research reveals the function of GSA clubs in the school, the nature of their activities, or how they may function better. Regardless of the specific activities any particular GSA organizes, GSAs are school clubs where youth may be able to learn about themselves and each other by exploring multiple and intersecting identities within an explicit context of a supportive alliance. This research brief report is based on 20 in-depth interviews from GSA students who participated in GLSEN Research Institute’s GSA Study. We examined student narratives from a diverse group of GSA student leaders about their experiences in GSA clubs across the U.S. Several themes emerged from student narratives related to best practices: how to recruit club members, how to create inclusive GSAs, and how to create effective and sustainable clubs. Each theme includes practical recommendations and tips that are geared toward creating and sustaining inclusive GSAs that address the needs and aspirations of ever-changing cohorts of students in middle and high schools.

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