By Alex Perez, GSA Network United Core Leader

The first time I went to a GSA club meeting on campus happened to be the same day that a GSA Network staff member was visiting my high school. I was in my junior year and had just joined our GSA. I really wanted to get our school to install a gender neutral bathroom and didn’t realize that there were large national organizations trying to do this, too. I was immediately intrigued and hit the ground running. I joined Youth Council and the Queering Brotherhood Fellowship.

Our GSA club succeeded in getting school administrators to put a gender neutral bathroom on the main floor in less than a year. I remember telling our principal that it wasn’t enough to just put a sign over the door; they needed to physically remove the gendered sign that was still visible at the entrance. He walked over to the bathroom and I watched him rip the old sign off the wall. That’s when it hit me: what I’m saying and doing–my activism–is making movement happen.

In just three years I’ve seen young people move policies and practices on their campus. I’ve seen myself and others move up the ‘pipeline’ from a GSA club member to Youth Council and now a United Core Leader, a new advanced leadership role within the Southern California Youth Council in which young people not only train and educate other students, but also serve as peer mentors and guide the work. The United Core Leaders program is currently in its first year and was developed with support from Liberty Hill Foundation.

Through these different leadership opportunities I see myself moving towards my ultimate goals in social justice and it’s really empowering. I’m discovering that we build stronger connections to our organizing and advocacy work when we see young people like us reflected in the leadership. And we are willing to take more responsibility when we build each other’s activism together.

Alex Perez is a United Core Leader, third year Youth Council Member, and former GSA club member at John C. Fremont High School. This fall, they were elected by their peers and GSA Network staff to serve as Intern for the Southern California field office in Los Angeles.