Regional Organizing Convenings (ROC) in the Midwest and Southeast gave National Association members a chance to reconnect, outline their organizational priorities, establish shared goals, and talk about how to leverage their collective power.
Co-hosted with the Center for Artistic Revolution, our Southeast ROC in Little Rock, Arkansas brought together organizers from JASMYN (FL), BreakOUT! (LA), OUTMemphis (TN), and Youth OUTright (NC). The convening was planned to coincide with Little Rock’s Pride parade, where we donned t-shirts with TRUTH’s Nine-Point Platform to show unity and contribute to the political statement.
Despite LGBTQ+ youth interest in forming clubs, many school administrators block them from getting started or restrict GSA activities. They also make it extremely difficult for partners to conduct site visits or support students. Some districts ban GSAs in every school due to laws that make it illegal for teachers to discuss sexual orientation and gender identity. Parental and community pushback also undermines GSA base-building. For instance, charter schools with varying student group policies and visitor regulations dominate the New Orleans education system, creating barriers to entry. In Florida, some school districts require prospective visitors to undergo training in order to receive identification badges. But we are collectively optimistic about trans and queer young people’s persistence in the region.
Our Midwest ROC was co-hosted by Indiana Youth Group in Indianapolis and brought together Illinois Safe Schools Alliance and Kaleidoscope Youth Center (KYC) in Ohio, two of our longstanding partners.
This year, the Midwest experienced a boost in GSA base-building and organizing. Traditionally LGBTQ+ spaces and resources in the region were also able to withstand much of the political turmoil generated by the current administration. GSA engagement, organizational management, and funding are higher priorities than campaigning and advocating for national candidates or policies.
Interestingly, the education system was a focal point of municipal and state-level organizing in all three states this year. GSA student leaders and other trans and queer youth organizers won a major victory in Illinois, when Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced the creation of the Affirming and Inclusive Schools Task Force—a group dedicated to researching and implementing policies to provide trans and gender diverse young people with more school-based resources and support. In Ohio, LGBTQ+ young people from KYC produced a voter guide to collect and share candidate positions on a number of issues impacting LGBTQ+ communities in Columbus, such as school funding and inclusive bathrooms. Though less focused on LGBTQ+ students, teachers rallied for higher wages in Indiana.
As we move into 2020, National Association members in the Southeast and Midwest will continue to support LGBTQ+ youth—especially those of color—who are leveraging the GSA movement to make change in their communities while elected officials try to erase them.