Masks and hand sanitizer. Schools closing and reopening. Six feet apart. We have all experienced a new way of life during this past year, and our future “normal” has yet to be determined. With all these changes, students have tried to adapt to this new world. Youth are learning both remotely and in-person, and each method has its advantages and setbacks. As the world morphs into something new, what does that mean for LGBTQ+ students?
For some, this time at home is a chance to spend quality time with family; for others, it is a time of deep distress and anxiety. Although some school clubs are taking a pause from meeting due to current conditions, it is important for Gender & Sexuality Alliances (GSAs) to hold meetings for students to voice their concerns and support each other during this difficult time in life. As the GSA advisor at Lake Forest High School, we have worked to maintain a schedule of meeting on Zoom every Thursday after school for just 30 minutes. While we did contemplate holding an hour-long meeting, we ultimately decided that students who have been on Zoom all day would rather check-in during a shorter period of time.
Attendance has been an issue, but the students who do show up each time seem to be committed to the club and enjoy talking with each other. After brainstorming with the students about how they want our virtual meetings to run, we came up with an outline: introductions (pronouns and something they want to share from the week), discussion of a current event (assigned to a student at the previous meeting), upcoming events, discussion of an LGBTQ+ term, and then an open forum.
Our meeting agendas are flexible, and we have had the privilege of hosting speakers through our connections at CAMP Rehoboth. When we have a speaker, we take the meeting the week before to discuss potential questions the students want to learn more about. We have a growing number of non-binary students, so Barbara Antlitz at CAMP Rehoboth connected us with a speaker who identified in the same way—this was monumental for our club because students saw a successful adult who identified the same way they do. During this time of forced isolation, we are still able to provide a sense of community and belonging in our club.
During open forum, we have discussed a range of topics. Sometimes we celebrate, like the day a trans student finally changed his name. Sometimes we offer support, like the day a student came to a meeting for the first time all year and apologized for not attending more…because she has been struggling. Giving students the floor to discuss what matters to them gives them the chance to show ownership of the club and meeting. After all, GSA is a safe space for all who attend. In our meeting last week, we all discussed coming out stories; if students had not come out yet, they had the opportunity to ask questions of those who had. We also created questions that anyone in the club could answer such as, “Who was the most supportive person when you came out? If you haven’t come out, who do you think would be most supportive?”
Finally, another important component we have included in our meetings is time to discuss a pre-selected LGBTQ+ term. We use this time to learn new things, and I learn something new during every meeting. We discuss at the end of each meeting what term we want to talk about next, and our president puts together information to “teach” us. For example, we have discussed the terms “queer,” “asexual,” “questioning,” and “non-binary.”
Although the world is in constant chaos, it is essential that we still provide our students with stability and a strong foundation. At times, we are the only supportive adult a student has in their life. We all just want to be seen and heard. As Sarah McBride eloquently said, “Each of us has a deep and profound desire to be seen, or be acknowledged, and to be respected in our totality. There is a unique kind of pain in being unseen.”
Ms. Emily Villa is an English and GSA (Gender & Sexuality Alliance) advisor at Lake Forest High School in Felton, Delaware. She enjoys being in nature, expressing creativity by making crafts with her daughter, and reading a good book. It truly has been an honor to work with Emily and the GSA student members. – Barbara Antlitz
Barbara Antlitz, CAMP Rehoboth Youth Coordinator, works with Gender & Sexuality Alliances (GSAs) in middle and high schools in Kent and Sussex Counties, and with other groups supporting LGBTQ+ youth. Barbara can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.