15 Minute activities for young people in LGBTQ supportive school groups
The Gay Straight Alliance at Shimna College has been running for around eight years. During that time we’ve had many different formats. Currently we meet once a week, at break time. It’s a short period of time- just 25 minutes, so you only get about 15 minutes of actual time together once everyone’s settled and the biscuits have been passed round.
When people ask me about GSA they often want to know what we actually do at meetings. My answer is that it varies depending on the students’ interests. One year the students frequently wanted to talk about gender, so we did lots of things based around gender (we had a past student who is transgender who came in to speak to us and answer questions, we had a visit from Northern Ireland’s best Drag King, Gemma Hutton, who answered their questions about feminism and women in drag/ stand-up comedy etc). Another year they had lots to say about sport and we did an LGBTQ sports display and organised someone to come in and teach us how to play non-gendered games of Ultimate Frisbee (a known LGBT-friendly sport). Sometimes if we’re doing a special event we’ll meet after school. But regular break time meetings mean that everyone in the school can come along.
In the spirit of encouraging teachers and other staff to consider having a GSA as something which is actually really easy to organise and run, I wanted to offer a list of some of the break time activities we’ve done and a few more that you can try out. Feel free to comment with some more ideas of your own. In any discussion I would invite students to participate and remind them that they absolutely do not have to disclose personal information about themselves if they don’t want to, but if they chose to talk about themselves then the group will be affirming of them. Our default position is that we affirm LGBTQ identities and we exist to give students a space to talk about themselves and explore their own feelings.
If you don’t feel equipped to cover these topics but you want to start a GSA then I would strongly encourage you to contact your local LGBT youth support group to ask for their help. In Northern Ireland you should contact Cara-Friend who can meet with you to discuss ways of supporting you and your students.
Confidentiality. What does this mean? Why is it important? Think about what you feel safe to share and what it would take for you to feel safe.
How to be an ally in school/ ways to support our LGBTQ friends in school
Ways to challenge homophobia and transphobia in school
What do we need to feel safe in school? How can we make this happen?
What if our parents/family are homophobic or transphobic? How to survive and thrive.
Christmas Talk about the ways in which Christmas might be difficult for some LGBTQ students. How can we support one another when we’re not at school?
New Year’s Theme Instead of having a list of New Year’s resolutions have a think about a theme for the year which might relate to you and your identity. Perhaps this might be your Year of Bravery. Or your Year of Self Care. A Year of Gratitude. Etc. Brainstorm possible themes and think about what might fit you as something you want to hold on to and remember this year. Try to make it one word if you can. Write your theme on a piece of paper and put it in your pocket. Later on you could make art around your theme, or write it on something more permanent.
Valentines Day Have some cards pre-cut/folded with envelopes and a box of felt tips, stickers etc. On Valentines day we often think about who we are attracted to. Why not also make a card for someone who encourages you. Who in your life makes you feel good about being LGBTQ? It could be an organisation rather than a person. Make a card to thank them.
Moments of Realisation In advance read this blog post about someone’s experience of realising they were trans. Summarise it for the students. Ask if anyone wants to share their experiences of moments which led to realising that they were LGBTQ.
Stones of Resistance Gather a bunch of small stones from the beach. You could have them pre-whitewashed or ask students to help you do this in advance. Have felt tips available. Talk to the students about how in some countries people can be stoned to death for being LGBTQ (see Amnesty’s campaigns). Each take a stone and write one encouraging word which relates to being LGBTQ. You can keep the stone or give it to someone else. This could tie in with your New Year activity.
Edit: In response to someone’s concern that ‘queer kids don’t need to be reminded that people want them dead’; In my experience they’re already pretty aware. We did this activity in response to the widely publicised proposals in Kenyan government at the time that gay people should be punished by stoning. I would hesitate to go out of my way to bring up worldwide atrocities, but unfortunately the media is full of stories of how homophobia and transphobia has led to people’s deaths, and I think that it’s important to raise issues which students may be concerned about and to offer them some way of acting to bolster their sense of hope. To this end we have performed several actions, including a student-organised book of condolence after the shooting in an Orlanda LGBT gay club which we then sent to the mayor of Orlando. Students felt that their response helped them own and express their grief and anxiety while also giving them a sense that you can always do something, even if it is just expressing your sorrow and standing with those who were most affected.
LGBT History Month Read a section from the brilliant book From Prejudice to Pride by Amy Lame and discuss it with students.
LGBT books Find a list of YA novels featuring LGBTQ characters and check some of them out of the library for students to pass around and read/discuss. Ask which books student have enjoyed themselves. Maybe you could start a lending library just for your group, or an LGBTQ section for in the school’s library. GSA students could make a display featuring their favourite books.
Youtube If you have the use of an interactive whiteboard or projector watch a short clip and discuss it with the students. Here is an example as a starter for talking about coming out.
Politics Have pre-printed A4 sheets with a picture of a local politician on one side. On the other, students can make a speech bubble and write something that they’d love to hear from their local political representatives regarding LGBTQ young people/ issues. Make a display of these, or send them to your local politicians.
Amnesty Action Prepare by looking up a campaign against homophobia or transphobia and having the relevant information to share with students who can then choose to complete an action for the campaign if they wish.
Meditation Prepare a short guided meditation for students in a quiet part of the school. This is something that can be helpful at exam time, but also at any time of stress. Doing the meditation together demonstrates that just 5-10 minutes to calm yourself in silence can be quite powerful. There are lots of ways to do this. You could light a symbolic candle, hold one of the stones your made previously, or just close your eyes. Here’s an example of a simple breathing exercise.
Zines Over a number of weeks put together a GSA zine full of poems, collages, art, cartoons, etc by the students. Give it a theme (eg. ‘Knowing Ourselves’) When it has all been put together make copies and fold them together. Everyone can have some copies to give to friends to leave around the school.
Assembly Over a number of weeks discuss, prepare and rehearse an assembly taken by the GSA for the rest of the school to tell them who you are and what you’re about.
This is not an exhaustive list and I will add more ideas when I remember them. If you meet every week there should be enough here to cover most of the year. If you are interested in starting a GSA in your school then please get in touch with a reputable support group like CaraFriend in NI or Stonewall in England.