From its start, the gay liberation movement was also a youth movement, the two can not be separated; one of the primary places from which the movement spread was high school. In the early 1970’s students at the George Washington School in New York City formed the Gay International Youth Society, with three goals and a first point of action: to have a school dance in which they felt free, safe, and celebrated. The first of these goals being able to form gay groups, 2nd fair representation in courses, and 3rd being to be treated as an equal human being (Ventura 2022). In order to achieve these rights the students wanted to get all the educational material that treated homosexuality as something bad to be removed from the curriculum. These demands were not only for their school but for schools all over New York City. The group’s ultimate goal was to create a network of gay student groups across the city. These students were motivated by youth activists that came before them one of these being Sylvia Rivera who was just 17 years old during the Stonewall Riots.
Now these students are the ones who inspire future generations. These organizers are often not given the attribution of being considered the first GSA rather that distinction gets given to Concord Academy in Massachusetts yet these organizers preceded them by 17 years, but the NYC group was predominantly mixed race and with a diverse gender and sexuality population. The George Washington School organization rooted its access to rights in the Student Bill of Rights that New York instituted in 1970 which gave students the right to assemble and form political groups. By the late 80’s the strength of the group was barely known but a movement arose that teachers, faculty, and parents should be helping youth advocate rather than doing it independently which is what we saw at the George Washington School, and this adult protection is largely still the mentality today.
Students at the George Washington school created a model for youth and student organizing. There are now around 1,100 GSA clubs in California and the organization spans at least 40 states. Just like the original club worked to make change students today are also using their organizations for change, an example of one of these clubs taking action is the students of Palm Bay Magnet High School who led and organized a walkout of over 200 students in response to anti LGBTQ legislation being passed in Florida. This walkout was part of a greater statewide movement which drew attention to the legislation and government. This September we saw another example to students organizing and using their voice to make change when students at Great Oak High School in Temecula walked out in protest of district policy requiring parent to be notified if their child identifies as transgender, this is just one of multiple walkouts that has happened in this district since the policy was passed.
GSA is not the only student organization working for queer and trans rights, there are now countless different organizations in schools created by students to support students. Not only do we see youth activism in school today but there are numerous other organizations outside of school clubs that work to unite youth to fight against injustices they are facing. One of these groups is Queer Youth Assemble, their mission “to bring joy and autonomy to queer youth under 25 in the US and its territories”. This organization both creates spaces of queer joy, through seasonal gathering events but also participates and organizes various protests to ensure protection, equity, and justice to queer and trans youth across the country. Queer youth assemble also uses their platform to discuss issues that affect all but disproportionately queer and trans youth. Queer Youth Assemble and the dozens of other queer youth organizations work on highlighting the intersecting identities that put queer youth more at risk. We are not able to talk about activism without talking about students who are fighting for students.
“Assembling a World by Queer Youth, for Queer Youth.” Queer Youth Assemble, queeryouthassemble.org/. Accessed 27 Sept. 2023.
GSA Network, gsanetwork.org/. Accessed 27 Sept. 2023.
Horseman, Jeff. “Temecula Students Walk out of Class to Protest Transgender Policy.” Press Enterprise, Press Enterprise, 23 Sept. 2023, www.pressenterprise.com/2023/09/22/temecula-students-walk-out-of-class-to-protest-transgender-policy/.
Ventura, Anya. “The Radical History of the First Gay-Straight Alliance.” The Nation, 24 June 2022, www.thenation.com/article/society/gay-liberation-high-school/.Walker, Finch. “Palm Bay Students Protest Laws Restricting Education, LGBTQ Rights and Abortion.” Florida Today, Florida Today, 21 Apr. 2023, www.floridatoday.com/story/news/2023/04/21/palm-bay-students-join-statewide-walkout-over-bills-targeting-lgbtq-community/70139083007/.