Students used as vessels for activism

November 5, 2022

By Volunteer Report


What is GLSEN?


GLSEN (Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Educators Network) was founded by a group of teachers in 1990 because “educators play key roles in creating affirming learning environments for LGBTQ youth.” Their goal is to create a safe and better world for LGBTQ students by developing supportive teachers and finding avenues for them to empower students. A quick scan of their website reveals the extensive work they do in LGBTQ+ advocacy in education. In addition to the pop up tab that suggests to clear the browser history of the website, you will also notice a feature on the website: a bright pink “safety” button for a quick exit.

GLSEN safe space stickers to display in school doorways and halls.

GLSEN conducts enormous amounts of research costing hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to inform schools about evidence-based solutions in schools. They provide reports based on surveys they conduct throughout the country. The GSLEN budget is several million dollars each year and the organization is funded by foundations, celebrities and many teachers.


GLSEN offers professional development workshops and trainings to assist in lessons such as using the correct LGBTQ language, choosing instructional materials inclusive of LGBTQ themes and ensuring a safe space by placing stickers in the school.


As an education organization, part of GLSEN’s work is to write policy that can be implemented in schools. Their confidentiality policy states that

“staff or educators shall not disclose any information that may reveal a student’s gender identity to others, including parents or guardians and other staff, unless the student has authorized such disclosure, the information is contained in school records requested by a parent or guardian, or there is another compelling need…The fact that a student chooses to use a different name, to transition at school, or to disclose their gender identity to staff, educators, or other students does not authorize school staff to disclose a student’s personally identifiable or medical information to anyone.”

This educator’s network ensures that they have access to as many schools and students across the country - there are currently 43 chapters in the US. Their website currently states that

“GLSEN is actively working on a new campaign for January 2023, which will focus on identifying and developing concepts rooted in liberation. This new program will have intentional resources and curricula development for elementary, middle, and high school students and educators.”

How does GLSEN push it's agenda? Through student- led clubs in schools:

GSA Club


Probably the most predominant way this teacher’s network can readily access schools is by the creation of a Gender and Sexuality Club or GSA club at schools. Formerly called Gay Straight Alliance, these clubs have

“evolved beyond their traditional role to serve as safe spaces for LGBTQ+ youth in middle schools and high schools, and have emerged as vehicles for deep social change related to racial, gender, and educational justice.”

The advisor of the GSA club, a teacher at the school, has a handbook to facilitate the meetings where students learn how to impact their schools and communities. Once a GSA school club registers with GLSEN, the educator’s network then provides the club with free resources. The club has a lot of tips for recruitment including making bright colorful posters, making public announcements and screening movies that features queer characters and story lines. LGBTQ+ book readings and movie screenings are always encouraged and part of the club activities.


Is GSA Club a true student-led club?


Discussions to process the content usually follows because it gives the advisor an opportunity for teachable moments and conversation starters. There are glossaries for all the inclusive terminology, vocabulary definition, dos and don’ts in the LGBTQ+ language.


Drag Queen Story Hour: Where do school districts draw the line?


In an effort to show solidarity and support for the LGBTQ+ students, GSA clubs have been known to host Drag Queen shows or Drag Queen Story Hour. One school district in Pennsylvania had to publicly apologize after photos and video of a drag show sponsored by the Gender and Sexuality Alliance Club were leaked online.


GLSEN is a very organized activist network and therefore provides all of their transgender action kits, guides and educational resources for the Gender and Sexuality Alliance chapters to be organized as well. The calendar of events and lesson plans keep the club busy all year long. So even though this is a student-led organization, there is minimal planning on the student’s behalf since everything, except the students themselves, has already been provided.


Does your child’s school have a GSA? Have you talked to them about it?

Some questions to consider:

  1. Is GSA a club like any other club?

  2. Should schools implement the GLSEN privacy policy drafted by educators for educators?

  3. Should a school offer support services to a student without a parent’s knowledge?

Learn more about GLSEN's model local education agency policy:

Model Local Education Agency Policy on Transgender and Nonbinary Students | GLSEN