Beginning a GSA at your school

For many school boards across Ontario, students can participate in extra curricular activities again during the 2021-2022 school year. For those of you thinking about starting a QSA or GSA in your school this fall (yeah!), here are few tools and pieces of information to get you started!

What is a QSA and GSA?

A GSA is a student-run group, supported by staff, that unites 2SLGBTQ+ and allied youth. It gives students a safer space to talk, learn and educate others about gender identity and sexual orientation.

Although the Education Act refers to GSAs as Gay-Straight Alliances, many schools are moving away from the title Gay-Straight Alliance to a more inclusive Gender-Sexuality Alliance or Queer-Straight Alliance.

Am I allowed to start a GSA or QSA at my school?

Yes, Yes and Yes!! In 2012, Bill 13 was passed that was an addendum to the Education Act that focused on Safe Schools. Included in that Bill was a section that protects a student’s right to have a GSA at their school. I’ve included it here to aid in conversations that might be happening at your school:

303.1  

(1)  Every board shall support pupils who want to establish and lead activities and organizations that promote a safe and inclusive learning environment, the acceptance of and respect for others and the creation of a positive school climate, including:

(d)  activities or organizations that promote the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, including organizations with the name gay-straight alliance or another name.

(2)  For greater certainty, neither the board nor the principal shall refuse to allow a pupil to use the name gay-straight alliance or a similar name for an organization described in clause (1) (d).

How do I get started?

If you are not sure how to get started, that is not a problem at all! There are so many resources to support you in supporting your students. ETFO has a very extensive list of 2SLGBTQ+ videos, pamphlets, websites etc. There is also an amazing website created by a Peel District School Board committee called “Make Peel Proud” that supports educators in bringing queer identities into their classroom throughout the year and will help to get your GSA or QSA started.

What should we do in a GSA?

Ideally, it is student led and organized. At many schools it is just a safer place to hang out, chill and chat. Some schools have a group that is very active in their social justice work. It can be whatever the students and you decide it should be. Our GSA has evolved greatly over the years and every year is quite unique.

Last year, during our online GSA, the students who joined were quiet at the beginning. We were online and there was very little talking or interacting for our first session. I decided to plan a few sessions to give us some foundational info to get started and break the ice. The students took over after that.

The activities that we did in the first four or five sessions:

  • Introduced the concept of a GSA. We looked at the term 2SLGBTQ+ and figured out what students knew about each of the identities listed. We did a Menti.com word cloud which enlarged the words that the students knew really well. This told me a lot about what level of understanding and knowledge many of the students brought to the group.
  • Looked at the Peel District School Board’s student census with a particular focus on the question “What percentage of students identify as 2SLGBTQ+?” It showed us that there are many students in grade 7 and 8 that identify as 2SLGBTQ+ even though their classmates might not be talking about it.
  • Shared YouTube videos of our favourite Queer musicians.
  • Shared our thoughts about our school and how safe it is for students who identify as 2SLGBTQ+.

Why is it important?

Our students who identify as 2SLGBTQ+ are some of our most vulnerable students. They may not have a space in their school or family life that is supportive. Therefore, a GSA or QSA can play a very important role in establishing a safer space for students.

What if nobody comes?

That is okay. Give it time. By clearly identifying yourself as the coordinator of your school’s GSA, you have told students that you are a safe and supportive person that they can approach when they are ready.

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The Author

Tammy Axt

I am a teacher of students with special needs in the Peel District School Board. This is my third year in the role and I am in the middle of a steep learning curve! I am loving every minute of this new experience with my amazing and awesome students.

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