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As part of our Back to School campaign to support LGBTQ students and their families, HRC spoke with the Genders & Sexualities Alliance (GSA) Network to learn more about how their organization supports LGBTQ youth.

1. Why is it important that your organization explicitly support LGBTQ youth?

GSA Network has a nearly 20 year history of working to improve school climates for trans and queer youth. We have seen that schools that have a visible GSA club have safer and more supportive school climates for all students. GSA Network's focus on trans and queer youth of color means that we use a racial and gender justice lens to address school climate through many interdependent issues like school discipline reform, supportive staff and administration, and dismantling the school to prison pipeline.

2. Describe the biggest challenge that LGBTQ youth face in schools.

The biggest challenge continued to be faced by LGBTQ youth in schools is unsupportive adults and administrations that foster unsafe school environments.  School administrators and teachers who do not support the identities of LGBTQ youth compound the challenges faced by students who already face issues like high levels of anti-LGBTQ victimization, punitive school discipline policies, increased levels of absenteeism, and feelings of hopelessness according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

3. How does (your org/your school) support LGBTQ youth?

Nationally, we provide technical assistance to local, statewide, and regional organizations working with thousands of GSA clubs across the country through our headquarters in Oakland, CA as well as our Midwest and Southeast regional offices. Our National Youth Council advises on programmatic goals and coordinates our annual convening of the National Association of GSA Networks. Additionally, in California we run the GSA Network of California which hosts regional youth leadership councils, youth conferences, and leadership summits. We also participate in HRC’s  annual Time to THRIVE conference to help build the cultural competency of various youth-serving professionals.  Finally, we collaborate with Transgender Law Center on TRUTH, a trans youth media organizing program.

4. What advice do you have for (educators, youth, parents etc.) going back to school?

Although it is a scary time for all members of the LGBTQ community, it is particularly so for young people.  LGBTQ youth need to see supportive adults and members of the community visible, out and proud.  Our advice for adult allies is to be as out and proud as possible either as allies or community members, whether displaying a safe space sticker or an ally button, indicating you are a safe person for LGBTQ youth to talk to.  

5. The election changed the world and some LGBTQ youth are afraid to return to school. What advice do you have for those students?

You are not alone.  You have the right to be yourself.  You are who you are supposed to be, even if the world and your school is telling you otherwise.  You deserve dignity and respect.  There are supportive adults and allies all around you and a movement of LGBTQ youth ready to stand with you.  

Housed by the HRC Foundation, Welcoming Schools and Time to THRIVE are national programs to help LGBTQ youth succeed. Welcoming Schools provides professional development to educators and free resources to educators and families to support a respectful elementary school climate for all students. Time to THRIVE is an annual national conference that brings together K-12 educators, counselors and other youth-serving professionals to build awareness and cultural competency to better support LGBTQ youth.

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