GSA Name

The acronym GSA usually stands for “Gay Straight Alliance,” and it is usually used by the LGBTQIA student groups in colleges and high school. Sometimes these groups are extremely politically active, getting involved in lobbying and social justice movements. Sometimes these groups host a great deal of social events – dances, parties, concerts, and so forth. Other times, the groups focus on the individuals, spending their time discussing issues that matter to the students who make up the group. All of these groups are extremely useful, they all greatly benefit the members and the local community around the groups.

When I became the president of Allies at Millersville University, I was faced with a difficult situation. At that time, I knew I was transgender, but I was still living as a male. Only those closest to me knew that I considered myself transsexual, and I was trying to build the strength to transition. I think, at that time, there were maybe two members of Allies who knew my name, Ashley. I, a female identifying, male bodied person, found myself mildly attracted to women, but mostly, I considered myself asexual. And all of the sudden, I was the leader of a Gay Straight Alliance, despite my own confusion and uncertainty.

But there was a problem with being the head of this group. I didn’t consider myself gay –  most people saw me as male at that time, but I didn’t like men. I knew I wasn’t straight; I wasn’t a normal man, so I couldn’t be in a normal man + woman relationship. I wasn’t an ally either. So I was in charge of the group I felt distinctly removed from. It was difficult.

A year prior to that, I had been at the Keystone Conference (www.keystone-conference.org), and a college-age transsexual woman told me that her college group called themselves a “Gender and Sexuality Alliance.” A year later, that idea suddenly resurfaced. I pushed for it in my GSA, and everyone was incredibly receptive. I think it took us 2 weeks before we switched everything from Gay Straight Alliance to Gender and Sexuality Alliance.

To an outsider, it might not seem like a big deal. The acronym is still GSA. However, there is a huge difference. Calling the group a Gender and Sexuality Alliance portrays a much broader message of understanding and acceptance. Rather than stating “We are gay, straight, and allies,” we state “We are all genders and sexualities, coming together in an alliance, be you straight, cisgendered, gay, trans, bi, or whatever. This makes a massive difference. I was excited at how well the idea went over.

So, to the college and high school students (as well as any supportive staff/faculty) reading this post, take this back to your GSA. Rebranding yourself from Gay Straight Alliance to Gender and Sexuality Alliance allows you to keep the familiar acronym, but it shows muc more acceptance and understanding. The old acronym is so limited, it covers the LGB and Allies part of the acronym, but completely leaves out the TQIA. Making this change is a great way to start to make your group more understanding for the wide range of individuals who may come to your group.

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