SAGA members attend GSA Con

Founded in 2002 and continuing for almost 20 years, Iowa Safe Schools, an LGBTQIA+ and allyship organization, has worked to fight for equal rights and to uplift local GSA’s in Iowa. 

To help this goal, they hold an annual conference, which, due to COVID, has been virtual for the last two of roughly 15 years of conferences. 

The conference as described by the organization is “Held at the beginning of every school year, GSA Con is the fall kickoff event for GSAs in the state! Students have the opportunity to celebrate the diversity of the LGBTQ community, collaborate across the spectrum of identities and experiences, and empower each other to build on successful student organizations. This is a free conference and includes engaging workshops on community organizing, pride and establishing a strong foundation for a GSA. In addition, students have the opportunity to network with other GSAs throughout the state, and advisers are encouraged to attend as there are workshop sessions tailored directly to adults.” 

This year, the conference was on Sept. 25 and SAGA [Sexuality And Gender Acceptance] held a viewing in the conference room of the counselor’s office. The following members were in attendance: adviser Susan Lagan (she/her); leaders Charlie VanHooreweghe (they/them), Nichole Taylor (she/her), Eden Davis (they/them) and myself, Sal Engle (he/they) as well as members Sage Slaughter (they/xem) and Caysen Hartmann Hodges (he/him). 

During the conference, we had the chance to interact with breakout rooms, advisers and other important resources for anyone trying to build a solid foundation for a successful club. 

Out of the several breakout sessions available to us, the group chose to attend four led by speakers Becky Ritland (she/her), Dana Van Renterghem (she/they) and Damian Thompson (he/him), with Becky leading two of the four attended. 

The breakout rooms varied from contacting local representatives in Des Moines, fundraising and advocacy, and even building up a safe space not only in the club room but outside of it. As the conference went on, the group received tips on how to reach out to students and staff, write up a mission statement, run fundraisers, understand what rights LGBTQIA+ students have and what rights are being threatened on top of how to fight for equal rights on a legal level. 

Taylor said, “It’s great to know that we have an organization of people and resources to back us up if we are struggling. Also that they are pushing for the education and growth of the queer culture. It was a great experience, and I appreciate all the work everyone at the Iowa Safe Schools and the volunteers put into the GSA Con.” 

Langan said, “GSA Con was a great conference, and the folks from Iowa Safe Schools always share good information for our students. The part I like the most is hanging out with our leaders and getting to know them all better and discussing our plans for SAGA.”

Davis also offered insight into the impact of the event. “It had a lot of good educational sources on how to run a GSA, so it’s really worthwhile if you are running a GSA or planning on starting one, but if you don’t and you are just there because you are gay, it’s not going to be fun or interesting for you, and that’s OK.”

Hartmann Hodges was grateful for the event. “The conference was great. It gave me lots of helpful information about GSA meetings and ways to make meetings more lively.”

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