At Green Dot, our educators, students, and families embrace the values of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Our efforts to expand our DEI commitments has helped us develop, maintain, and magnify safe spaces where all students can feel empowered to express themselves, build community, and help others.
Across the network, many of our schools have Gender Sexuality Alliances (GSAs) to help our students feel safe, strengthen communities, and develop the skills needed for self-advocacy. For example, our middle school students’ GSAs have helped their school community demonstrate acceptance and create new models for equality. And our high school students have used their alliance as a platform to educate their peers and staff and build better campuses. GSAs have remained an important element of connection across our schools. So much so, that even with the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, our GSAs have found new ways to build, inform, and connect—virtually.
Building GSA Capacity on Campus
Melissa Espiritu, an English teacher at Ánimo Pat Brown Charter High School, has spent four years working with her students to expand their GSA. “We started our club with a new group of ninth graders who are now seniors today,” Espiritu said.
Before the Covid-19 pandemic and the consequential shift to distance learning, the GSA club at Ánimo Pat Brown met biweekly during lunch. “It was an opportunity and space to be with each other more than anything,” Espiritu said. The GSA often held school-wide lunchtime informationals, featuring speakers from organizations such as Somos Familia, The Trevor Project, and AIDS Walk Los Angeles.
Looking back, Espiritu reflected on how rewarding it has been to nurture a GSA, and the road ahead of it. “It’s rewarding to be supportive and create that space, because you can see that the students really appreciate having a space like that. The challenge comes in trying to build leadership capacity in the students,” Espiritu said.
Because meeting time was limited, Espiritu found other opportunities for students to build leadership skills. Students attended events such as Models of Pride, the largest free LGBTQ youth and ally conference, where they could participate in leadership workshops specific to their interests. “Seeing students develop their own leadership capacity and push their activism in this field forward is the most rewarding thing to see,” Espiritu added.
Connecting While Apart
During distance learning, the Ánimo Pat Brown GSA club maintained its biweekly meeting schedule via Zoom. This proved to be critical as students and much of the world struggled to cope with the disruption of social connection. “We just spend a lot more time focusing on community building and not as much on activism as we've done in the past. That’s been the biggest transition,” Espiritu said. While our Los Angeles schools opened their campuses this past April, many of our clubs have continued to remain virtual to limit exposure and to keep our students, staff, and families safe.
Up town, History teacher and GSA advisor Brian Gonzalez kept the Ánimo Ralph Bunche Charter High School GSA active through Zoom conferences. During a session in May, Gonzalez reflected on the importance of their school’s GSA. “Our GSA has a mission of three things. We’re about providing people a social space for support; We educate ourselves about what it means to be queer; and we also educate others about what’s going on in our community. We are working to become activists for a better tomorrow,” Gonzalez said.
During the online presentation, Gonzalez used Google Slides, fast moving GIF images, and inspirational photos to demonstrate the progress the GSA has made over the last year. Gonzalez also included a brief mindfulness meditation activity, and pulled strength from quotes said by LGBTQIA+ heroes such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. “People come in a variety of wonderful colors, a variety of sounds, and all of it is beautiful,” Gonzalez added.
Students also had an opportunity to openly share and express themselves during the conference. Wyse Crossman, a rising senior, shared how the GSA had impacted him. “GSA just really makes me feel like I’m at home. I can feel safe, warm, and welcomed,” Crossman said. “This is a place where I can be me, where I can share what I’m going through, especially with people that can relate. It’s always good to have somebody that can relate to you.”
Uniting with Expanded Learning
Before the pandemic, our Expanded Learning program united GSAs across our network together through our Rainbow initiative. But COVID-19 changed the traditional ways that our students connect. Since March of 2020, Green Dot’s Expanded Learning program has transitioned over 100 after school programs and events to online spaces—including network-wide opportunities for our GSAs to bond.
Last June, GSA members across our network of schools attended a Pride movie night event. “The students loved it. The chat was completely lit up, like it was non-stop the entire time,” Espiritu said. This year, Expanded Learning continued the community movie night with a virtual showing of the movie “Prom.” “It’s been really great to have a space outside where we’re just having fun with each other, because I think we were all really craving that connection that happens naturally in person,” Espiritu added.
Gonzalez is looking forward to more opportunities for our GSA students to unite across our Los Angeles network.“I think it’s a great way for awesome leaders like Wyse to meet other awesome leaders. And my hope is that they will want to collaborate and plan other events with our schools.”
At Green Dot, our educators are devoted to preparing our students for success in college, leadership, and life. While we prioritize rigorous instruction and college-ready support, we know that building a strong school community is necessary for students to unlock their full potential. We’ve provided school leaders across our Los Angeles schools with professional development on the context and language of gender identity and sexual orientation and the tools to support LGBTQ+ students. Our schools are committed to building safe and inclusive environments where all truly means all.