By Geoffrey Winder, Co-Executive Director of GSA Network
It’s hard to believe it’s been over seven years since I took over GSA Network’s leadership as Co-Executive Director alongside Ginna Brelsford. I didn’t come into this role with ambitions of power, but with an absolute willingness to do my part for as long as I was needed. I was honored and terrified to assume leadership in 2015, as a young, untested leader of color, and the first alumni to lead the organization. I had a strong vision for the work and where I wanted the organization to go, and I also knew I didn’t want to be the last alumni or former member to be Co-Executive Director.
I also wanted the next alumni leader to be better prepared for the role than I was. I understood that for that to happen, it was imperative that we build a pipeline of trans and queer leaders who would be ready to eventually grow into the leadership of the organization when it was their time. And, I knew it was my obligation to understand when the moment was right for the organization and the work for me to make space for new, emerging trans and queer leaders who can take GSA Network and the LGBTQ+ youth movement to the next level.
And, that moment has arrived.
Today, it is with immense humility and excitement, that I thank you for the privilege to be a leader in this movement and I announce my intention to create an important opportunity for the advancement of another generation of trans and queer youth leaders. In September 2022, I will be transitioning out of my role as Co-Executive Director of GSA Network. It is a moment that we, as an organization, have prepared for and are excited to see come to fruition.
As a student of movement history, I often marvel at how far our movement has come and how fast. I want to express my continual gratitude and appreciation for everything that the GSA movement has given me. Starting a GSA club in 1999 felt–and in many ways truly was–revolutionary. Even if it wasn’t immediately obvious at the time. I just knew that there were LGBTQ+ students like me who deserved community care and to feel pride and empowerment in their identity. Looking back, it’s clear that what seemed like the simple act of starting a high school club became the catalyst for the work I’ve had the honor and privilege to do over the last 14 years.
I feel extremely proud of the work that GSA Network has been able to accomplish during my time in this role. My first job out of high school was as a summer intern at GSA Network. I worked on our Anti-Racism Initiative, which examined the barriers to LGBTQ+ youth of color participation in GSA clubs. Since joining GSA Network’s staff in 2008 through leading our Racial Justice Programs– and then during my time as Co-Executive Director– addressing systemic barriers to inclusion and the expansion of access to our own movement has been a theme of my time at GSA Network.
We evolved our name to Genders & Sexualities Alliance Network to reflect the experiences of young people who had moved beyond the limits of a binary gender system. We created a new tagline to reflect the way that racial justice had become a central value that is now core to our work in LGBTQ+ youth organizing—an approach that is still emerging in youth-serving organizations in the country, and now is clearly a leading movement in the issues at the intersections of racial justice, LGBTQ+ youth and education. And we continue to expand our programming to meet the unique, diverse, and intersectional experiences of trans and queer youth of color, like our Two Spirit Initiative (our program for Native and Indigenous TQ youth) and ROSES (our programming supporting Trans Girls of Color).
And, maybe most importantly, we have built that pipeline of leadership for trans, queer, and nonbinary youth in our programs, providing pathways for professional development within the organization through participation in our Board of Directors, staff-level positions, and opportunities like fellowships and internships. Like myself, GSA alumni are already in leadership roles at GSA Network, and throughout movements for racial, gender, reproductive, and education justice. GSA alumni are also present in all of the professions trans and queer youth can dare to dream about being in, where they are still working in the best interest of trans and queer youth.
As someone who is no longer a youth, but a continual ally, I feel confident that there has never been a better moment to access the power of the upcoming generation of trans and queer leaders to take our organization and the GSA movement to the next level. Trans and queer youth, as I did many years ago, have the vision to imagine a future of their own liberation. They have the courage to fight for the right to live authentically in their schools and communities. They have the wisdom to know that they deserve healing and love.