By Juniperangelica Loving, GSA Network Co-Executive Director

Nearly 25 years before GSA Network was founded, young people were rising up from the underground and reclaiming their right to be seen. Now, 25 years since GSA Network first began organizing with GSA clubs in California, so much has changed, but young people continue to rise up and reclaim their power.

Where did we come from?

Knowing where we come from is an important part of the lifetime of any movement. The history of trans, queer, and Two-Spirit peoples is both unique to the individual, and shared across communities. It’s true that our community is made up of many different stories, with different beginnings and endings. What threads our queer stories together is most often how the cultures we live within react to our existence.

In the United States, American culture has spent 500 years selling us the idea that success (for individuals) demands sacrifice (of all others). The myths of white supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy have been used to divide and distract us from what we’ve always needed: each other. In this process, TQ2S+ young people are often the first to be targeted, outcast, and left to die.

Faced with the pressures of survival and assimilation, TQ2S+ youth are also usually the first to defend themselves, others, and everybody’s right to exist. Ironically, the most marginalized Americans have been forced to defend democracy while U.S. government officials use their power to continue exclusion.

Here’s a peek inside our GSA Network movement history over the last 25 years:

  • Remember: GSAs have their roots in the decades of TQ2S+ movement organizing that made it possible to come up from underground into daylight, from the 1950s to the 1970s.
  • Witnessing and experiencing the AIDS epidemic throughout the 1980s also deeply informed generations of young queer organizers, teaching us about mutual aid, community care, and heart-led advocacy.
  • By the late 1990s, TQ2S+ students marched alongside Third World student activism and began organizing toward safer schools that welcomed students as their full selves. This was also when GSA Network was formed with the intention to connect and resource student leaders on their respective campuses.
  • GSAs forming and organizing through the 2010s changed the game as they utilized social media and media advocacy to reclaim their stories/history/right to fight for their rights. Then, another community health crisis, in the form of a global pandemic, challenged us to rethink what was possible.
  • GSA clubs starting in 2020 have been part of a completely different world than those of the past, yet work toward a sense of community and hope for the future.

This is part of why it is important to know how deep our movement roots go. From the Stonewall riots to ACT Up demonstrations to GSA clubs today, we create possibilities where our options once seemed so limited. We had no time to wonder if it would get better once we become older. We’ve always needed to persist, as we must do today.

Where are we at now?

The slew of anti-trans, anti-queer, and anti-choice attacks that we see today from over half of US state governments represent the continuous fight for our right to live as people. The stereotypes leveraged and used to justify discriminatory bills are the same, tired lies conservative leaders have passed down and reused over and over.

Trans, queer, and Two-Spirit young people, however, continue to be the vanguard of creativity and resistance. Organizing themselves into small pods and clubs, GSAs have historically been a vessel for youth to connect, support each other, and ready themselves to grow up in a culture that is set on our eradication.

Over the last 25 years, GSA Network has evolved as much as our GSA clubs and the movement as a whole. Amidst everlasting change, we have become stronger by uniting. Queer solidarity has historically rejected fear-mongering tactics and attempts to divide people. We remember deep in our bodies how isolating it feels when we’re facing the world alone.

When we refuse to continue these cycles of violence, we imagine and create new possibilities. This is how we have survived; by connection and radical imagination.

Where are we headed?

What’s next? We continue.

We must continue to find our pods (GSA) and move together. At the core of every social movement throughout history has been the potential power of a united people. When power holders try to divide us, we must have unshakable confidence in togetherness. For many of trans, queer, and Two-Spirit young people, GSAs are one place where we can relax into an easy sense of belonging. Our bodies know when we are around people who care for us, so find those people and care for them too.

Continue to defend our choice, our freedom, our democracy.

In caring for our community, we each are responsible for sustaining our communities and regions. When we reclaim our right to be seen and heard, it makes sense that we protect democracy and our right of self-determination. Ironically, we must defend democracy within a self-proclaimed democratic beacon of the world.

Note: we must not use “democracy” as a way to further harm people or criminalize others. We must move from a place of dignity and love for our communities when we organize for justice. Can we practice democracy with an interest beyond ourselves? Can we practice democracy without surrendering ourselves? This is the type of choice (self-determination) TQ2S+ young people are raising the alarm about.

In the face of hate, remember who you (we) are. We’ve made it this far. We’re not going back (into the closet). That is our choice. This is your chance to choose and refuse. This is what we believe to be true and what we are committed to. This is what GSA Network is–and has been–about.