News / Calgary

From Average Alberta Joe to MLA, Metro asked what's a GSA?

In their own words — What is a gay-straight alliance? What does it represent to you?

Bill 202 and Bill 10 have spurred a broader discussion about gay rights and the importance of gay-straight alliances in Alberta schools. Metro polled a variety of Albertans from different walks of life on what they believe a GSA is and what it represents in broader society.

Gay-straight alliances are student-led and teacher facilitated support groups focused on sexual orientation and gender identity issues in K-12 schools. The research is clear. GSAs help to reduce risk factors, improve school connectedness, support high school completion, reduce drug and alcohol abuse, and enhance self-esteem. It is not an understatement to suggest that GSAs can and do save lives  — Kristopher Wells with the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta

Gay-straight alliances are student-led and teacher facilitated support groups focused on sexual orientation and gender identity issues in K-12 schools. The research is clear. GSAs help to reduce risk factors, improve school connectedness, support high school completion, reduce drug and alcohol abuse, and enhance self-esteem. It is not an understatement to suggest that GSAs can and do save lives  — Kristopher Wells with the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta

 Gay-straight alliances are not unlike our current practices and policies that we have instilled to create a safe and caring school environment for all of our students. We believe in fostering inclusive communities in our schools and we have developed a comprehensive anti-bullying strategy that includes addressing homophobia through peer support groups, the promotion of inclusive and respectful language, school anti-bullying days and providing mandatory training for staff — Linda Wellman, trustee chair for Calgary Catholic School District

 Gay-straight alliances are not unlike our current practices and policies that we have instilled to create a safe and caring school environment for all of our students. We believe in fostering inclusive communities in our schools and we have developed a comprehensive anti-bullying strategy that includes addressing homophobia through peer support groups, the promotion of inclusive and respectful language, school anti-bullying days and providing mandatory training for staff — Linda Wellman, trustee chair for Calgary Catholic School District

I attended high school over a decade ago and said many homophobic things that I’m embarrassed of today. I think this was because I didn’t (knowingly) know anyone of another sexual orientation, so I perceived them as “different” or “weird”. While there were certainly LGBTQ students in my school almost nobody was open about their sexuality due to the fear this attitude created. A GSA would have allowed LGBTQ students to be open about who they are, to feel safe in their environment, and to show the rest of the students that there was absolutely no reason to be afraid — Jason Vezina, Edmonton resident

I attended high school over a decade ago and said many homophobic things that I’m embarrassed of today. I think this was because I didn’t (knowingly) know anyone of another sexual orientation, so I perceived them as “different” or “weird”. While there were certainly LGBTQ students in my school almost nobody was open about their sexuality due to the fear this attitude created. A GSA would have allowed LGBTQ students to be open about who they are, to feel safe in their environment, and to show the rest of the students that there was absolutely no reason to be afraid — Jason Vezina, Edmonton resident

Our goal is to ensure that GLBQT youth feel welcome in our schools. This is part of a broader policy on anti-harassment and bullying and our commitment and desire to build student resiliency in adapting to life’s challenges. Opportunities exist currently for students to participate in forums, conferences, classroom and school wide discussions. The ATA is working with the District to ensure our GLBQT have a voice now and in the future — Alexandra Jurisic, president of the Calgary Catholic Teachers Association

Our goal is to ensure that GLBQT youth feel welcome in our schools. This is part of a broader policy on anti-harassment and bullying and our commitment and desire to build student resiliency in adapting to life’s challenges. Opportunities exist currently for students to participate in forums, conferences, classroom and school wide discussions. The ATA is working with the District to ensure our GLBQT have a voice now and in the future — Alexandra Jurisic, president of the Calgary Catholic Teachers Association

A place where anyone can come together and support each other. I wish I had a similar support network while I was growing up — Jon Cornish, Calgary Stampeders running back

A place where anyone can come together and support each other. I wish I had a similar support network while I was growing up — Jon Cornish, Calgary Stampeders running back

Our mission emphasizes the obligation and responsibility of each one of us to create conditions for each young person to thrive including gender and sexual minority youth . . . schools respond in multiple ways to address the safety and well-being of LGBTQ youth. Gay-straight alliances are one way to respond — Joy Bowen-Eyre, trustee chair for Calgary Board of Education

Our mission emphasizes the obligation and responsibility of each one of us to create conditions for each young person to thrive including gender and sexual minority youth . . . schools respond in multiple ways to address the safety and well-being of LGBTQ youth. Gay-straight alliances are one way to respond — Joy Bowen-Eyre, trustee chair for Calgary Board of Education

GSAs are peer support groups. They create safe spaces at school for LGBTTQ students, children of LGBTTQ parents, and allies, to gather and support each other . . . By bringing forward Bill 202 I could help legislate GSAs at any school where a student asked to form one — that would go a long way to saving kids lives and making the whole school more inclusive and tolerant. Why wouldn't I do such a simple thing that made such a tangible difference in kids' lives? — Laurie Blakeman, Alberta Liberal and Bill 202 sponsor

GSAs are peer support groups. They create safe spaces at school for LGBTTQ students, children of LGBTTQ parents, and allies, to gather and support each other . . . By bringing forward Bill 202 I could help legislate GSAs at any school where a student asked to form one — that would go a long way to saving kids lives and making the whole school more inclusive and tolerant. Why wouldn't I do such a simple thing that made such a tangible difference in kids' lives? — Laurie Blakeman, Alberta Liberal and Bill 202 sponsor

As a congregation, we are a GSA ourselves. Personally, I’m really concerned about the suicides reported in schools. People need to understand that it’s really about being respectful towards each other. GSAs cultivate face-to-face respectful interaction and that will bring us past our fears — Rev. James Allan with Edmonton's Robertson Wesley United Church

As a congregation, we are a GSA ourselves. Personally, I’m really concerned about the suicides reported in schools. People need to understand that it’s really about being respectful towards each other. GSAs cultivate face-to-face respectful interaction and that will bring us past our fears — Rev. James Allan with Edmonton's Robertson Wesley United Church

Our core human desire is to not feel alone in the world. To know that we are seen, heard, and valued. It doesn't get more simple or sacred than this. GSA's embody this sacred longing in action, by tangibly creating a space for those who feel the least seen/heard/valued to belong, to be advocated for, and to have the privilege of advocating for others. If we have never experienced alienation or a feeling of not being safe just because of an immutable characteristic, we will never understand its importance. If we have, there is nothing we understand better — Pam Rocker, affirming and creative co-ordinator Hillhurst United Church

Our core human desire is to not feel alone in the world. To know that we are seen, heard, and valued. It doesn't get more simple or sacred than this. GSA's embody this sacred longing in action, by tangibly creating a space for those who feel the least seen/heard/valued to belong, to be advocated for, and to have the privilege of advocating for others. If we have never experienced alienation or a feeling of not being safe just because of an immutable characteristic, we will never understand its importance. If we have, there is nothing we understand better — Pam Rocker, affirming and creative co-ordinator Hillhurst United Church

It represents two things. On the symbolic side, it became the symbol of inequality . . . on a practical side, it is often the only way a child can get support when they're marginalized, when their parents are not accepting or in denial or even kick them out of the house. Where the school system is looking down on them for who they are, looking at it as a sin and where peer pressure is tremendous, this is the only oasis often where the child can be herself or himself and not feel threatened and deal with the issues they face every day — Tory MLA Thomas Lukaszuk, one of few in his party who said Bill 10 wasn't enough

It represents two things. On the symbolic side, it became the symbol of inequality . . . on a practical side, it is often the only way a child can get support when they're marginalized, when their parents are not accepting or in denial or even kick them out of the house. Where the school system is looking down on them for who they are, looking at it as a sin and where peer pressure is tremendous, this is the only oasis often where the child can be herself or himself and not feel threatened and deal with the issues they face every day — Tory MLA Thomas Lukaszuk, one of few in his party who said Bill 10 wasn't enough

Teachers and students work together to create welcoming, safe and inclusive spaces. Research shows that schools with GSAs see less incidents of bullying and disrespectful behaviour overall. I believe that GSAs are about ensuring freedom of assembly as well as adult support in creating safe working and learning environments in schools — Sarah Hoffman, trustee chair for Edmonton Public Schools

Teachers and students work together to create welcoming, safe and inclusive spaces. Research shows that schools with GSAs see less incidents of bullying and disrespectful behaviour overall. I believe that GSAs are about ensuring freedom of assembly as well as adult support in creating safe working and learning environments in schools — Sarah Hoffman, trustee chair for Edmonton Public Schools

A gay-straight alliance is a place that provides a safe space for anyone in the school, particularly queer students because we specialize people in who have had issues in the school. Most of all, a GSA provides support and community for kids who don't necessarily have that anywhere else — Zander Hartman, Edmonton student and GSA member

A gay-straight alliance is a place that provides a safe space for anyone in the school, particularly queer students because we specialize people in who have had issues in the school. Most of all, a GSA provides support and community for kids who don't necessarily have that anywhere else — Zander Hartman, Edmonton student and GSA member

It acts as a bridge and it humanizes people who stereotype each other. It's always a good thing when you bring people together who are different to show how very similar they really are . . . we're not all of the same religion, but we're all human. We can't protect religious rights if they're used to abuse human rights — Druh Farrell, Ward 7 City of Calgary councillor

It acts as a bridge and it humanizes people who stereotype each other. It's always a good thing when you bring people together who are different to show how very similar they really are . . . we're not all of the same religion, but we're all human. We can't protect religious rights if they're used to abuse human rights — Druh Farrell, Ward 7 City of Calgary councillor

What is a GSA? It's simple — it's a family that isn't blood, an accepting place to be and you can rely on it no matter what. It's inspirational, filled with change makers and life changes. A place to express who you are and letting yourself be free. It's a highlight of the week, where we can be who we are without judgment — Sam Dyck, Calgary student and representative of the Forest Lawn GSA

What is a GSA? It's simple — it's a family that isn't blood, an accepting place to be and you can rely on it no matter what. It's inspirational, filled with change makers and life changes. A place to express who you are and letting yourself be free. It's a highlight of the week, where we can be who we are without judgment — Sam Dyck, Calgary student and representative of the Forest Lawn GSA

Note: Metro did attempt to obtain a comment Calgary MLA Sandra Jansen, who sponsored Bill 10, but hadn't received a reply at press time.

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