LGBTQIA+ Conference Fosters Interscholastic Network For Local GSA Groups

Andover students, accompanied by Coreen Martin, Instructor in English, and Casey Smith, Instructor in Art, attended an LGBTQIA+ conference held at Governor’s on Sunday. Hosted by Governor’s students Tianyi Shen ’23 and Maggie Zhou ’25, the conference invited members of Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) and similar groups from nearby private schools to engage in bonding activities, workshops, and seminars. 

Shen and Zhou emphasized the importance of creating connections between schools and giving voice to the students who work to foster LGBTQIA+ awareness at their schools. They believed the conference was a successful event that opened up more possibilities for various GSA-adjacent groups. 

“The conference was really important because I feel like whenever we see an awareness event, we often see adult figures, or senior leadership, or administrative figures up on stage talking about awareness but we rarely see student leaders connecting with each other and talking about what they did, because in reality, they did so much stuff in their schools to make change happen. And I feel like the conference was definitely a great cause for our school to see how [affinity groups] were operating in other schools,” said Shen.

Attendee and GSA board member Cristina Donovan ’24 agreed with Shen and Zhou that the conference allowed schools to network and created a space for celebrating LGBTQIA+ identity. Donovan expressed their hopes that Andover could host a similar conference in the future. 

“I think [the conference] promoted the interscholastic celebration of queerness. In my experience at Andover, we don’t have a lot of interaction between the other schools at the conference, so it was pretty cool to get together just for the reason of celebrating queerness and talking about trans identity, the joy that surrounds that. I think our GSA would reach out and do this again at Andover. They did it first and now we know that we could. I know a lot of the really sweet people there would love to do this again,” said Donovan.

According to Max Berkenblit ’24, an attendee and GSA board member, the conference broadened his perspective and inspired him to apply ideas sparked by the conference at Andover. He emphasized that the wide array of schools and participants in attendance helped him brainstorm GSA initiatives at Andover, such as flying LGBTQIA+ pride flags around campus. 

“I think it definitely promoted allyship between schools and different groups, because we’re all doing a lot of the same work just in different places… having events like this allows leaders of different groups to develop their own thoughts. The queer community at Andover is certainly not small by any means but it can start to feel like an echo chamber, so getting different perspectives from different schools and hearing what it’s like at those schools is really helpful to broaden our perspectives and our horizons,” said Berkenblit.

Jorge Briones Sausa ’25, GSA board member and attendee, pointed to the keynote speech on creating a safe space for identity exploration as one of the most enjoyable aspects of the conference. Having connected with a number of schools at the conference, Briones Sausa expressed hope that this network would foster long-term collaboration between schools in the future.

“There’s a whole email list with all of us on it and so I hope that in the future we can work together more…. There are different types of these communities around Massachusetts and around the area. Getting to hear about how everyone’s experience differs from school to school really shows how much these schools are different. We’re all doing things right and we all have stuff that we need to improve on. These conferences really help us get a deeper knowledge of what’s happening all across these schools because we need to help each other to create a stronger community,” said Briones Sausa. 

Shen and Zhou commented that the conference was a memorable and successful event. They are excited to see that the event empowered students by allowing them to share their ideas and experiences to a larger community. 

“The conference went really well because honestly, although this is our first time hosting something like this and I’ve never hosted a conference before, I was really scared and nervous. But I think we were really engaged in the workshops and we had a super exciting conversation with the speaker. It was really cool getting to know different people from different schools and talking about it. For example, we had this conversation about different schools and how they promoted things like [all-gender] dorms and how different schools had different policies for it. Students and school leaders connecting is really important and is something that doesn’t happen very often,” said Zhou.