Q&A with leaders of Lincoln’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance

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Susie Moreno

Bella Bravo, a senior, is a co-president of GSA this year.

The Cardinal Times’ Gabby Shaffer recently sat down for a Q&A with Lincoln senior Bella Bravo and junior Sasha Harriman, the co-presidents of the Lincoln Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA). Their responses are below. The GSA’s advisor is Sarah Bestor, a math and AVID teacher. GSA meets every week on Tuesdays at lunch, from noon to about 12:30.

 

Gabby Shaffer (GS): Can you describe what GSA is and what you do? 

Sasha Harriman (SH): GSA, first and foremost, is a safe space for LGTBQ+ kids. So our main goal is to have that and have a sense of community within Lincoln. We also try to work on educating ourselves more on issues and educating staff members and hopefully getting some of that out to the Lincoln community at large. So I would say our main two goals are community building and education. 

Bella Bravo (BB): GSA used to stand for Gay and Straight Alliance, but it now stands for Gender and Sexuality Alliance. I like to point that out sometimes just because a lot of times gender gets erased from the equation, but that is a big part of the LGBTQ+ community. It was also changed because, while we appreciate our allies, our first and foremost thing is to be a safe place for the people who need a safe space. 

How many members does the GSA currently have? 

SH: We don’t really have a signup concept. It’s just sort of whoever shows up and people are always welcome to show up. For example, we’ve actually had more people recently than we did at the very beginning of the year. It’s a little bit on the smaller side; I would say that right now about 15 people show up to each meeting. When we’re in person, sometimes the first few meetings can have as many as 40 people, but right now it’s about the 10-20 level per meeting. 

BB: People have been asking us throughout the year “Is it too late to join?”. It’s never too late to join! It’s totally open. It’s okay if you come and then you miss some. It’s always an open community. I’m sure everyone in the club also agrees. Anyone can show up, we’re going to be welcoming. It’s supposed to be a safe space. We’re not taking attendance. 

 

When you announce meetings on Instagram, you code them with different designated colors. Why did you start coding meetings? 

BB: The reason I wanted to do different colors of meeting is because we’re not at school this year. And that means people are in their homes, and that means people are in an environment that we cant guarantee exactly a safe place. And as much as we really want people to be in a safe space, sometimes parents just aren’t as accepting and sometimes kids aren’t out. So our meets are coded so that you know what we are going to be talking about. We do our best to not necessarily have limited meetings, which just means we don’t mention it at all. 

When and why did each of you become leaders of GSA?

BB: I’ve been in GSA for four years. In the first year, it was much different than it looks now. And for my second year, it was so much smaller. I don’t know exactly what the difference was, but that’s when I was like, “I want to be kind of a part of leadership.” I wanted to be share my ideas and reach out more so we can reach the bigger community that I saw my freshman year. Even though we’re in COVID, we’re still kind of putting our foot on the gas pedal because we want to make sure the GSA can continue on. And it can still be a safe space in the future when we get back to school for these people in our community.

SH: To clarify our leadership structure at the moment, we have our adult advisor, Ms. Bestor, who’s amazing. But it is a student-run club. So Bella and I lead all of the meetings with a few occasions, for example, the sex-ed meetings we’re going to be doing are being led by her. But Bella and I are in charge of the Instagram, the email, we are the only people who are on those. And we lead and prep for most of the meetings. And generally, the structure we’re hoping to continue is to have a junior and senior president. At some point, we will take on a current sophomore, to sort of keep that going. 

 

What is your favorite part about GSA?

SH: This honestly just sounds kind of cliché, but my favorite part is getting to know the people throughout the year. It’s just really great to see people usually become more comfortable with the people in the club. And I think I definitely feel like sort of a friendship with almost everyone in the club, even just at this point of the year online, which I think is just really incredible to have this sort of community and we just have free talk, we joke with each other a lot. You know, it’s just a very casual but supportive place for me. 

BB: My favorite thing about GSA is having that space where you are safe. I personally have had a very lucky experience with being LGBT, having this situation where I can joke about something and I know the people around me are going to get it. Or being able to talk to someone about something. Of course, you could find other LGBTQ students in the school, but it’s having that place for you to all get together and talk about specific things related to the community and play games and stuff. For example, this club let me do a 50 slide-long presentation on all the LGBTQ+ graphic novels I like. When was I going to get to do that otherwise?!? They let me just nerd out on graphic novels for a meeting. It’s that extra level of understanding that I appreciate. 

 

What impact do you think or want GSA to have on the Lincoln community? 

SH: I just think making Lincoln overall a more welcoming place for queer kids. I should specify when I say queer right now, I mean anyone in the LGBTQ+ community. I just think making it a safer place through both community-building and hopefully breaking down some of the stereotypes that people have built around people in the LGBTQ+ community. So overall making it a more safe and accepting and loving place. 

 BB: Something that Sasha and I have talked about is that we want to really make sure GSA is accessible and accepting of everyone. Anyone can be LGBTQ. Sometimes people will say to others, “Oh, you don’t act lesbian.” That’s not how it works. We realize not everyone’s going to want to be in GSA or need GSA space, but if someone does want that or need that, we want them to feel like they can come. As we’ve been saying, our favorite part about GSA is the community getting to talk to these people and getting to support other people and getting supported. GSA is about just coming to find a loving community that’s going to accept you. And we really don’t judge people. I feel like a lot of times people are judged for their label or kept out of a certain label because they don’t fit it. We don’t do that. We understand that exploration is part of it, you’re still welcome and valid. It’s part of your journey. We’re all young teens and we’re exploring our identity, so that’s part of it. And you’re accepted and welcomed.

SH: I really love history in general in relation to queer issues and queer people because one of the things I want people to know is that, queer people have always existed; you can go back to ancient civilizations and find clear evidence of this that has been run over by historians. There is evidence all the way through time, all around the world of queer people. We have always existed and we always will continue to exist and a lot of people just don’t get to see a lot of that. And it’s a more sad note, but especially with the generation before us being hugely affected by the AIDS crisis, a lot of the queer people of that generation are not here anymore. And just showing people that there are elderly queer people who are happy and just living their life like anybody else is really important to me. 

 

GSA’s Instagram (@lincolnhighschoolgsa) and email ([email protected]) are both entirely student-run by Harriman and Bravo. Bravo and Harriman are not mandatory reporters, and Harriman notes “people are always free to reach out to ask for advice, or even just to chat, and we’ll keep it 100% confidential.” 

 

 

 

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