Your support this Give OUT Day sustains our legacy of trans, queer, and Two-Spirit youth leadership.

GSA Network has supported trans and queer youth leaders to create safe school environments, advocate for their rights, and grow as young professionals able to lead for 26 years. Gia Loving, a former GSA youth leader who now serves as GSA Network’s Executive Director, recently joined Carolyn Laub, the organization’s founder and former Executive Director (1998 – 2014), to reflect on the power of seeing GSA youth leaders make their vision real. 

What is truly at the core of GSA Network’s work?

Gia: Schools were my sanctuary growing up, but this got harder to remember as I was bullied for being queer from elementary through high school. There were some teachers along the way who protected me when they could, but I knew that being able to connect with my peers was core to feeling like I belonged to my community in El Monte, California. Feeling welcomed on campus and supported in being my authentic self was a transformational experience I personally lived through in high school when I started a GSA club. And I was able to share that experience with my queer peers and our friends.

Carolyn: Yes, the core of the work is having young people lead. The core of the work has stayed the same: supporting GSA organizing, creating, and sustaining GSA clubs, youth council, leadership trainings, summer activist camps. Youth leadership is in our DNA. The organization’s first Board of Directors was only high school students. I believed in the power of young people doing this themselves. From the very get-go, this movement was about how the people who are most impacted can create and lead the change. Eventually, the board thought it could be helpful to have a few adults as members to assist with the governance and structure…That’s an important piece that shouldn’t get lost: starting with a youth-only board and then adding adults later when the young people said it was important.

What is it about GSA Network that keeps the community coming back as alumni to serve as staff and Board?

Gia: Our work as student and community organizers is continuous and a lifetime commitment toward creating a more welcoming and sustainable world. GSA clubs are often the first political home that TQ2S young people encounter, where they are taught about the systems of power and oppression impacting their lives, and about our collective potential to change the world around us. So we start to learn about these possibilities in high school, sometimes middle school. But we definitely keep queer world-building and stay connected after graduating from high school. More than 40 percent of GSA Network’s current staff, including myself, are alumni from GSA clubs and leadership programs. The role of intergenerational community members and mentors is key to passing on lessons learned and momentum created.

Carolyn: As the founder, it is so gratifying to know that you are now leading the organization as a GSA alum, Gia. GSA clubs build a pipeline of trans and queer movement leaders who start organizing in school and go on to do movement work across progressive movements. Some become lawyers, teachers, or artists. We go everywhere. Alumni can come back and say, “Here’s what it looks like to go from being an activist in high school and where that could lead you in your life.” That’s a cool way to connect and share back  experiences in GSA organizing that inform the choices that you made in your life. 

Reflecting on our organizational legacy, where did we start and how has that shifted?

Carolyn: We often say that GSA Network began forming in September 1998. What led up to that came from my own lived experiences and the organizing work I was doing as a young adult. In 1996, I organized with a group of young people across California who were working to get a statewide nondiscrimination law passed. We had our first gathering at Queer Youth Lobby Day. For me personally, it was transformative to lobby with other queer young people. A couple of years later, I took students from a youth support group I had started to Sacramento to attend a Queer Youth Lobby Day. They had that same experience of transformation that I had had in 1996. When I asked the group if they wanted to keep doing this kind of activism, making real changes, and organizing other students, they said, “Yes!” It was incredible to witness that spark of activism and realize that you do have power as a queer young person. The next day, I wrote in my journal that I was going to start an organization, which became GSA Network

Gia: I have so much gratitude for the generations of TQ2S young people before me that build on the work they inherited and brought up youth leaders like myself. I continue that intergenerational work and value the ties this created within our community. As GSA Network’s current Executive Director, post-pandemic and on the verge of Trump 2.0, I’m taking what I’ve learned and putting forward my best strategy for this moment. We’re focused on fortifying GSA clubs and protecting our right to assemble on public school campuses. Through leadership programs like Roses and the Two-Spirit Initiative, we’re investing in the leadership of trans girls of color and queer Indigenous folks. Our organizational strategy Devising Freedom roots GSA clubs work a generations-long movement toward liberation. We’re still here and must continue onward.

How has GSA Network’s youth organizing strategy and leadership development changed school climates effectively?

Gia: While I assumed that schools were focused on helping students grow holistically, it was GSA Network that first taught me how to step into my full potential as a member of the campus and wider community. Our leadership model invites young people to be innovative and involved in the problem-solving process. Since we help make it possible for GSA students to lead their own clubs and campaigns, GSA Network has been able to be responsive to issues of each generation of youth leaders and evolve our approach accordingly.

Carolyn: There’s power in numbers and in having young people’s voices be heard in policy that will shape young people’s lived experiences in schools. A core piece of our youth organizing strategy has always been about policy advocacy. Our model was, and still is, effective because it centered our core strands of student organizing, student leadership at the local level, and creating change. We were constantly figuring out what else we would need to do from a policy perspective so young people could exert and use their power to create changes at the local or state policy level.