First we’ll say that on this page we’ll be telling you things we’ve
learned from starting and leading our own e-mail group, and things
we’ve learned from the leaders of other groups. So let’s "Just do it."
Let's get your group started. Please read our "Do/Don't" page after
you read this page.
What does it take to start a group?: One brave, committed,
forward-looking high school student who wants to help gay, lesbian,
bi, and not-sure students in his/her school. We were able to start
ours with six group leaders (five gay and one straight), which grew to
eight, and now totals nine. But one guy or girl can start a group, and
from that beginning find others to help. Eight group leaders is a
good number. Ours usually work in pairs, scheduled throughout the
week, writing and answering e-mails between 8:00 and 10:00 p.m.,
but we check for new messages whenever we can and immediately
act on urgent ones.
Remember, the purpose of your group is to help you and your fellow students find
others like you at your own school. Many of you already have cyber friends in distant
places who share your orientation or curiosity, but you need, and will welcome, local
contacts. Some schools sponsor chat rooms from their school website, but those are
sometimes not particularly gay-friendly or are too concerned with gossip, fashion,
movies, music, or whatever. Some high schools (a small minority) have a Gay-Straight
Alliance or something similar, but many "straight-acting" gay students are reluctant to
join those organizations.
Okay, I (we) am (are) ready, willing, and able, so what next?: Choose a name for
your group and set up an e-mail account for it. Our group’s name is askusnow2003.
The first few groups that started after that also used the Ask Us Now name, but since
then other names are being used, such as Stand Beside Us and OK To Be You. Using a
web-based e-mail server, such as Yahoo, Hotmail, Mail.com, etc., allows you to access
your mail from any computer, so whoever is on duty can work it from their home, or
wherever. We strongly encourage you not to set up a public profile for your new
account, with safety in mind.
We’ve done that now, so how do we get students to write to us?: We were allowed
to announce our group’s purpose and e-mail address in a school assembly, and then to
post notices on the student bulletin boards. If you’re not allowed that announcement,
or you’re not out and comfortable with doing that, try the bulletin board approach. Click
here to see some sample notices, which can be used on bulletin boards or in your
school newspaper, if you’re allowed to put notices there. Some groups have had cards
printed (costs about as much as one well-stacked pizza or a good CD) and put them
into lockers, through the vent slots. Another way is to use your school’s Student
Directory, if you have one that shows e-mail addresses. You can send out bulk e-
mails, sending them as BCC’s. Blind carbon copies don’t show the addresses in the e-
mail header or address line. The bulk-mail approach takes some time, since you’ll
want to put all of those addresses into your address book, but hey, you’re committed,
right? If you start with one hundred or two hundred you’ll probably find some
volunteers to help you with the rest, and those volunteers might join you as group
leaders. Depending on your ISP, you may have to send bulk mail in batches of less that
one hundred per batch, so they won't be rejected as spam. Click here to see a sample
Whatever method you use to get the word out about your group, make it clear that e-
mail sent to your group address does not go out to the entire group, unless the writer
Whoa!! It works. We’re getting responses, so what now?: Always remember to
protect your writers’ privacy and anonymity, unless they tell you otherwise. You’ll find
that some writers want to be introduced to other writers. Always get the permission of
all parties before sharing e-mail addresses. Some writers will surprise you by telling
you their names. Be careful. The name given might not actually be the writer’s name.
There have been some instances of malicious use of names, in order to try to "out"
someone who is totally straight, usually done as a prank. Keep in mind that your
group must earn trust.
At first, you’ll probably get some unkind e-mails, but for most groups that has been
limited, and soon stops. We’re the kids of Generation Y, much more tolerant than
previous generations, right? If you choose to respond to the unkind ones, please do it
in a kind way, maybe explaining some things about why your group exists and why you
feel it serves a purpose in your school. When you answer e-mails, it’s a good idea to
take the time to write well, avoiding chat room language, such as “oic ur gay 2. r u
out 2 ne 1?” That stuff is useful for speed in chat rooms, but not cool in your e-mail
You might get letters involving things other than sexual orientation. Our group earned
enough trust that a straight student with a drug (crank) addiction wrote to us. Some
of us met with him and were able to take part in getting help for him. He went
through a seven-day detox and then a 28-day rehab program, and then summer school
to make up the lost school time. Now he’s very active in anti-drug activities and is a
leader of our school’s chapter of Students Against Destructive Decisions.
What else can we do to further our cause?: We’ve found that Instant Messaging
and private chat rooms are a big help. We’re talking about IMing and chatting among
the members of your group, not the worldwide kind. Chatters can remain anonymous
while they’re making contact with, and choosing, others they would like to get to
know. They probably already know them but just don’t know, yet, that they have the
same interests or orientation. You can bulk-mail your whole group to tell them what
time, and where, you’ll be creating a private chat room, and give them the name of the
room. It’s fun and productive.
Please read our Do/Don't page, next.
We wish you luck in starting and maintaining your group. Please write to us and tell
us of your progress and let us know what we can do to help. Tell your letter writers
about this site, as we’ll be posting more links to useful sites and great stories that
build self-acceptance and self-esteem.