While the ideals and goals of these groups may differ, they generally seek to create a safe space where LGBTQ and Ally students can share their thoughts and feelings and meet others who have been through similar experiences. This allows students at various stages of coming out or identifying as LGBTQ to find support through encouragement, understanding, and friendship.
Some students in these groups may seem confident, friendly, and outgoing, but it’s possible that they’ve been through periods of loneliness, fear, shame, anger, and doubt before arriving at their present stability. Once people find safe spaces and communities, they are able to gain the strength to confront the obstacles that present themselves along the way.
For students who are in the process of coming out, LGBTQ groups may be their first point of contact with a compassionate, like-minded community. With that in mind, students should know that managing an LGBTQ and Ally organization means overseeing a group of people who have a range of needs and experiences. In order to help members, the group should be very clear about its goals, whether those are to advocate for LGBTQ rights, support members in their coming-out processes, create educational programming, or function as a social group — or all of these. Even if an organization addresses several of these goals, it’s smart to consider how it will focus on one function at a time. For example, this might be done by rotating functions addressed to each goal throughout the month.
Tips for Starting a Group
Look for Examples
Take note of how student leaders on your campus are taking charge of their respective groups. Reach out to your administration, campus activities boards, student life offices, and student government to learn about the process of starting a new student organization. Sometimes, you may need to collect evidence, such as a signed petition, that students are interested in participating in the group you’re proposing. Some colleges require new student group officers to be trained or new groups to complete an application. You may also have to include certain types of positions, like president and treasurer, within the group’s formal structure. Another common requirement for new groups is to recruit a faculty or staff member who can advise the organization, so contact someone you think would do a good job in this position! You may also need to submit a constitution that outlines your group’s goals and beliefs before you are officially recognized.
Connect with administrators and staff who can help you, such as members of student affairs, student government, health services, and multicultural services. Finding allies and advisors will help facilitate the process of starting the group.
Create a Mission and Vision
Write a mission and vision statement and a list of core values in collaboration with others interested in creating the group. This will be the foundation of your constitution and bylaws.
Tips for Building a Group
Think About Mental Health Issues
Get in touch with the on-campus counseling services and health services to discuss the possibility of having your group act as a referral point for students who are addressing LGBTQ issues. Providing support for another person’s mental health is a big responsibility, so make sure you understand your group’s limits. For instance, create a plan that designates a contact person when someone is at risk of harm.
Connect with Other Resources
Share information about other relevant groups at meetings so that members can reach out for supplementary help if they need it.
Tips for Maintaining a Group
Take Care of Yourself First
As a group leader, be sure to take care of yourself so you can do your best for the rest of the group. Doing poorly in your classes or staying up all night will make you feel overwhelmed and overworked, neither of which will help you fulfill you role to be a good model. Find a balance by delegating to those members of the group who are responsible and organized.
The atmosphere of a student group is a combination of a serious workplace and a social gathering among friends. Things can easily become exclusive, and some may feel out of the loop. Keeping things open at the expense of sacrificing inside jokes will make everyone more comfortable. While student groups can be a place to find friends — and even romantic partners — creating an inclusive atmosphere that is free of drama (or at least light in the drama department) serves a greater good.
Keep It Fun
Your LGBTQ and Ally group may create events and meetings that you and others look forward to all year long! The hard work will pay off by giving way to prideful, positive memories that will last a lifetime.
An earlier version of this article was featured on CampusPride and written by Isabel Williams, a 2014 Campus Pride Summer Fellow. Isabel is studying Political Science at the College of Charleston, and she is the president of the Gay-Straight Alliance and a student organizer for her campus’ SafeZone program.