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Julia Sinclair-Palm

Youth organizing is a form of civic engagement and activism. It offers a way for young people to identify and address social inequalities impacting their local and global communities. Youth are provided opportunities to learn about power structures and pathways to create meaningful change to support their communities. In formal institutional approaches, youth organizing is understood as part of positive youth development and a strategy to train young people about civic society and democracy. Youth organizing is also seen as a way for young people to seek support, empowerment, and resources and to develop their leadership capacity. Central to the field of youth organizing are questions on the role of youth within youth organizing. Researchers examine the leadership structure within youth organizations, the acquisition of resources for the organization, the process for identifying issues that the organization will address, and how youth experience their involvement. Youth organizing has been especially important for young marginalized people who may feel isolated and face harassment and discrimination. Researchers have extensively documented how youth organizing by people of color and lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer and questioning (LGBTQ) young people in North America have played a large role in fights for social justice. However, it was not until the mid-20th century that queer and trans youth started organizing in groups connected by their shared experiences and identities related to their sexuality and gender. The development of Gay–Straight Alliances (GSAs) in schools and debates about sexuality education in schools provide examples for exploring LGTBQ youth organizing in the 21st century.


Youth have a rich history of engaging in activism and organizing within schools to promote equity based on gender, sexuality, and race. Youth equity work in secondary schools includes myriad activities: developing student-led clubs, such as gay-straight alliances (GSAs, also known as gender and sexuality alliances); advocating for inclusive policies, practices, and curriculum; engaging in direct action, such as protests; and developing individual and shared critical consciousness. Situated in the United States, Canada, and other countries, GSAs are a common way that youth have organized to promote equity and justice for youth with marginalized sexualities and genders; they have, however, been critiqued for their lack of inclusion of racially or ethnically marginalized students or attention to intersecting forms of oppression. Opportunities exist within research, education, and practice to understand and address the heterogeneity and intersectionality of GSA groups and members, examine and understand other forms of school-based activism from an intersectional perspective, and recognize and examine school-based equity work within the broader cultural, social, and political contexts that involve families and communities. Youth, teachers, and social workers engaged in equity work in schools must attend to intersectionality and center the needs of the most marginalized within their work.