Spotlighting a GSA: Intern Aaron Barksdale on Bushwick School of Social Justice (BSSJ)

As an intern for youth programming, I’ve had the pleasure of working with LGBTQ and ally student groups through the programs with Live Out Loud’s partner schools. At these programs the students and the Live Out Loud facilitator discuss themes and issues relating to the LGBTQ community, creating spaces for queer teens and allies at their schools. However, one of the goals for our organization is to inspire students to take action in between our sessions. One school in particular has shown their maturity and ability for critical analysis of heteronormative culture as well as facilitating difficult conversations about queer identity with their peers.

The students at Bushwick School of Social Justice (BSSJ) are an ambitious and spirited group of teens that are dedicated to learning, as well as teaching others, about the LGBTQ community. The Queer Student Association (QSA) at the school has a handful of core members who were interested in boosting their membership and educating fellow students about the challenges and experiences that LGBTQ youth at their school encounter. The QSA used two advisory periods to host a workshop with an open invitation for all students to attend.

During the workshop, which was entirely facilitated by the members of the QSA, students gave their personal definitions of love, shared stories about coming out experiences, and performed LGBTQ themed skits. Although there were a lot of new students in attendance, they did well at engaging with one another on hard topics like transphobic violence or standing up for queer rights in uncomfortable situations. On coming out to parents, one student remarked, “Parents and grandparents don’t understand because it’s less common for them, but young people get it.” In general most of the students felt that their school was a supportive environment for LGBTQ people.

The students facilitating the session, as well as their ally peers and non-QSA members, were very passionate about expressing, defending, and educating others about queer identity. It was enriching for me to hear the stories of the students as they recounted events from their lives. When sharing what leaves means to them one of the students said, “love is anything you want it to be.” It was incredible to see the students of the QSA take initiative to host this program for their school.

The impression of Live Out Loud on these students has enabled them to develop their ability for effective communication about LGBTQ experiences. We are all very proud of their drive, productivity, and ability to put on an event of this magnitude on their own.

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