Campus Life

GSA to Host One-of-a-Kind Leadership Conference


This weekend, April 20-22nd, the Texas A&M University at Galveston Gender and Sexuality Advocates (GSA) will host what could be considered the first leadership conference in Texas specifically for the greater LGBTQ+ community.

The event was born out of frustration at the difficulties LGBTQ+ groups face in getting organized and connected.  Russell Cole, TAMUG’s GSA President, and Kirsten Smirl, GSA Treasurer, began planning the conference over a year ago.

“We’ve been looking for conferences to attend in order to better ourselves as officers in the organization,” said Kirsten. “We couldn’t find any conferences that had both the LGBTQ+ and leadership components so we thought ‘why don’t we have one?’”

“We want to functionally develop leadership skills and connect GSAs and similar organizations across Texas,” said Russell.  “The network of GSAs is sparsely connected, with new programs essentially having to reinvent the wheel.”   

This conference hopes to change that, with the aim being to build a strong network so that when new organizations begin, they have ready access to other groups’ knowledge.

“We are trying to reach out to GSA clubs at other universities,” said Kirsten. “We’ve reached out to all of Texas, really.” Attending the conference will be representatives from The University of Texas, The University of Texas-El Paso, The University of Texas Medical Branch and Ball High School.

The conference is comprised of a host of activities, starting Friday night with a movie screening of “Small Town Rage”.  On Saturday things will open with a speaker and learning modules focused on topics emphasizing flexible leadership styles and approaches, followed by a keynote address. 

There will also be a social at 7 p.m. Saturday evening, “where we’ll have a chance to have tea, talk and network,” said Kirsten.  “That’s also optional, so if people want to go explore Galveston then they can do that, because we are trying to expose how cool Galveston is.”

On Sunday, everyone will regroup for a problem-solving session. “This will get the schools to interact more,” said Russell, “and to showcase what type of problems GSAs can run into and how to work through them, with more experienced members being able to share their expertise.”

None of this would be possible without a strong foundation with TAMUG’s GSA, which was started about a decade ago. Danny Roe ‘13, a Diversity Education Specialist in the Division of Student Affairs, is one of the founding members and has been instrumental in GSA’s growth over the years. Serving as the GSA advisor, he is also responsible for bringing the Aggie Ally workshops program to TAMUG.

“I think the amount of stuff we’ve been able to do has grown,” said Kirsten. “Now we don’t have to fight to exist. We can do our events, our lectures, game nights, socials, panels and movie nights.”

The strong foundation of GSA has seen them become more involved both on and off-campus. “We partnered with the Student Association of Latino Leaders (SALL) for Dia de los Muertos,” said Russell.  “During Black History Month we partnered with the Black Student Alliance (BSA) to feature the movie “Pariah”,” said Kirsten. 

There’s been routine philanthropy with the Access Care of Coastal Texas (ACCT), which offers free HIV testing and a clothing closet for the less fortunate. “We put donation boxes around campus and gave those to ACCT,” said Kirsten.  The GSA also worked with the Galveston Children’s Museum during Big Event, helping build a wheelchair accessible path for their garden.

“We are trying to branch out, to create a community,” said Kirsten.

Russell nodded, saying “Anything to create awareness and change the perception.  I am really proud to have this conference at TAMUG. It’s a way to promote the reputation of TAMUG and A&M as a whole, being fearless on every front. To reach out. To educate. This is a niche that hasn’t been filled and we are the ones doing it.”

Note: The Conference takes place April 20th through the 22nd. Registration is available up to the start of the conference. For further information, please visit the GSA’s website or follow them on Facebook.

The Second Annual Multicultural Holiday Party (December 2017) started by GSA and hosted this year in MAIN featuring representatives of GSA, BSA, SALL, and the Diversity Office.

Above: The Second Annual Multicultural Holiday Party (December 2017) started by GSA and hosted this year in MAIN featuring representatives of GSA, BSA, SALL, and the Diversity Office.

Media Contact

Patrick Temperilli
Academic Affairs