Setting up a GSA

10 Steps to Set up Your GSA

Sometimes starting a GSA can be a challenge, but you're not alone! Many GSAs have been successfully running for years and you can learn a great deal from the experiences of their members. Here are 10 basic steps to help you form your school's club:

Assess Your School's Environment

Assess whether or not you feel there will be any obstacles in developing a GSA at your school. If you think there will be opposition, who will oppose?

Note: Check out the "School Climate Questions & Outlines" adapted from the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network's Jump-Start Guide.

Where does your school fit in?

Also note:

For responses to parental objections, see "Answering Adults' Concerns" from Around the Rainbow. This might be useful to share with students or teachers in your school who do not identify as LGBTQ.

What is your school's demographic? How might you reach out to all students in your school community?Note: MyGSA.ca has developed "Becoming an Ally." This might be useful to share with students or teachers in your school who do not identify as LGBTQ.

You are not required to have a reason for starting a GSA, but it never hurts to have some rationale for why you want one. Ask yourself the following questions: Are heterosexism, homophobia, biphobia, and/or transphobia problems at my school? Do lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, two-spirited, queer, and questioning (LGBTQ) students want a supportive and safe space? Are there students who want to know more about the LGBTQ community? Are there students with LGBTQ parents, other family members, or friends?

Note: For a model of a GSA proposal, see what Joey Wright wrote to the Greater Essex County District School Board regarding the establishment of a GSA at Walkerville Collegiate Institute in Windsor.

Prepare yourself by thinking about possible allies. Which teachers, students, school staff members, including librarians and guidance counsellors, and administrators do you think will be strong supporters of your group?

Educate yourself, particularly if you think you will encounter obstacles. Use the statistics and information provided here to construct your argument. According to Every Class in Every School, Egale's Final Report on Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia in Canadian Schools...

  • 68% of trans students, 55% of female sexual minority students, and 42% of male sexual minority students reported being verbally harassed about their perceived gender or sexual orientation.
  • 20% of LGBTQ students and almost 10% of non-LGBTQ students reported being physically harassed or assaulted about their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • Almost two thirds (64%) of LGBTQ students and 61% of students with LGBTQ parents reported that they feel unsafe at school.

Read the Final Report here.

Click here for examples of Ministry of Education policy on the responsibilities of school boards to create and maintain safer and more inclusive schools.

Follow All School and School Board Policies and Guidelines

Establish a GSA in the same way that any other group or club in your school would be formed. Follow the guidelines or district policies of your school. Students may need an administrator’s or teacher’s permission. Enlisting the help of other students may be helpful.Click here for examples of Ministry of Education policy on the responsibilities of school boards to create and maintain safer and more inclusive schools.

Find a School Staff Advisor/Sponsor

Most school clubs require faculty advisors or sponsors. Even if this is not the case at your school, it will likely be beneficial to have one. Find a teacher or staff member that you feel will be supportive and a good ally for your group. Try to include both LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ advisors in your group if at all possible.

Speak to Your School Administration

Encourage your school administration to become an ally, even if it is not required that you involve them in the establishment of your group. They can help validate your GSA as an important part of the school and help with things like planning special events or bringing in speakers for school assemblies. Administrators can be important liaisons between students, teachers, parents, the outside community, and district officials. It can also be beneficial to provide administrators with information about GSAs or details about your group.

Inform Guidance Counsellors, Social Workers, Librarians, or Others

School staff may know students who would be interested in attending meetings and can help with getting more group participants. Having staff involved can also be beneficial because they may have professional knowledge and valuable resources for your group and may help facilitate discussions and meetings.

Find a Meeting Place

Have your meetings in a safe and comfortable location in your school that is somewhat private. Some students may feel a little reluctant or nervous about attending a GSA meeting because they may fear being harassed or having assumptions made about their sexuality or gender identity. Remember that safety and confidentiality should always be primary concerns.

Establish a Plan and Guidelines

Select a meeting time that that will be most convenient for the participants. Decide whether or not your GSA should hold meetings on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis. It is always good to create group rules/norms with all members of the GSA, but it can also help to think of or draft some preliminary guidelines. For example:

  • What tools or supplies will be needed (e.g. paper, pens, films, etc.)?
  • What ground rules will help reaffirm responsible and respectful behaviours?
  • Will the meeting be held in a formal or casual way (i.e. seating, speaking in turn, etc.)?

Note: See "How to Run a GSA Meeting—Meeting Formats and Ideas." Establish your meeting space as a safe space, create a mission statement, and brainstorm possible activities and topics of discussion for future meetings.Note: See the "Sample Safe Space Protocol" from Supporting Our Youth (SOY) and "Icebreakers" (from the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network's Jump-Start Guide) as well as the "Activities section" for help and suggestions!

Advertise Your Group

Work with your GSA advisor/sponsor and initial members to discuss the best ways to advertise your group. Posters are an effective means of getting more participation as they can be displayed around the school for all students to see. They are also an important part of helping students feel safer at school as they are a visible sign of acceptance. Having a poster party can be a fun way to design and make the flyers. You can also consider making a Facebook group or webpage if you really want to get creative! You want to continuously monitor participation and see what tactics work in terms of finding and keeping members.

Remember, if posters get torn down or defaced, do not get discouraged! The posters are likely to stimulate school-wide discussion and may lead staff and students to express their personal feelings, opinions, and questions surrounding the GSA. Not all comments will be queer-positive, but breaking the silence is a vital step in addressing and challenging the many stereotypes and myths about LGBTQ individuals. Keep putting posters up if they are destroyed. It is also a good idea to put them behind glass and in busy areas, and to encourage supportive staff members to place them on their doors and in staff areas, in order to discourage people from destroying them.

Additional tips for finding new members:

  • Have a "Bring a Friend Day" where every member brings a friend to the meeting!
  • Having a guest speaker can attract new participants.
  • If your school has one, advertise in your school newspaper.
  • Having sign-in sheets can help you stay in contact with members (e.g. having people put their emails down).
  • Have a movie night—-everyone loves movies!
  • Working with other school clubs to plan shared events and activities is a great way to network.
  • Setting up a table or bulletin board for your club can be a great way to give out information on your club and its current events.
  • Personally asking people to come to your meetings can really help, especially if they don't know what your club is about and want to know more before going.

Things to consider when advertising:

  • Make sure your posters set a positive tone for your group.
  • Include meeting times, locations, and dates.
  • Use LGBTQ-affirming symbols on your posters, such as the rainbow flag or pink and black inverted triangles. (For more suggestions, see the list of symbols in this kit!)
  • Reinforce the fact that all students are welcome, including straight allies, and all students who identify as trans, two-spirited, and queer and who come from any ethnic or cultural background.
  • Think about including a short description about what goes on at your meetings and be sure to highlight that supportive allies are welcome to attend.
  • Emphasize that student confidentiality and safety are guaranteed.
  • If your GSA creates a Facebook group, advertise it.

Provide Incentives (e.g. food!)

Food can be a great icebreaker. It can give nervous attendees something to look forward to and for some it can be an excuse to attend. You can foster a sense of community by encouraging students to bring in some snacks to share with everyone.