Parents

Supporting a child who would like to start a GSA or another student-led safe space group

Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs), or other student-led safe space groups, can make a big difference in the culture of a school. They can contribute practically by promoting awareness and addressing issues of homophobia, transphobia and biphobia, while also providing students with a safe and accepting environment on school grounds. Furthermore, they can work indirectly as an acknowledgement of the administration’s, board’s and student body’s commitment to LGBTQ inclusive spaces. As a parent, there are many ways you can help your child and other students at the school who want to establish a GSA or another student-led safe space group. Here are a few tips:

  1. Talk with students

    A GSA, or any student-led safe space group, is primarily a club for students, and so it’s important that students lead in its creation. Talk with your child, as well as LGBTQ-friendly parents and their kids, to get a sense of what the climate is like at school. Has there been a GSA or similar group before? Has anyone ever tried to start one? Would students join if there was one? Is there a group of students ready to start one now?

    Your actions don’t have to hinge on the answers to these questions, but it’s a good idea to establish and maintain a network with supportive students and families from the school. Students can find more info on starting a group on MyGSA.ca’s Setting up a GSA section.

  2. Talk with school staff

    Try casual conversation with any of your child’s teachers who you think might be supportive. Is there or has there ever been a club that addresses LGBTQ themes? Ask yourself, are there any easily identifiable “champions” among the staff; someone who you think might help students set up a GSA or who would make a good staff advisor? Are students aware of this person? Why not help your child to organize a meeting between interested students and this staff member? Consider the steps in Tips for Talking with School Administrators, and Tips for Talking with Teachers documents.

  3. Reach out locally

    Don’t reinvent the wheel! Help your child reach out locally to find out if there is another school in the area that has a GSA or student-led safe space group. Why not help organize a meeting between interested students from your school community and the staff advisor or school administration at that school? Encourage students to take the opportunity to share and discuss strategies, struggles and successes with a local GSA.

  4. Do your homework!

    What do you know about your school’s stance on LGBTQ inclusion at school? What about LGBTQ-targeted bullying? Is this information available to students in your school community? Consider helping your child to do this research and provide information to the students at their school interested in starting a GSA or student-led safe space group.

    For the most recent Canadian stats on LGBTQ-targeted bullying and harassment, check out Egale Canada’s Every Class in Every School report (13MB). For resources on your child’s own school, consult your school’s website and the board’s website searching for board policies, codes of conduct and any official documents related to equity, diversity and inclusive education. You can find some examples of inclusive education policies in the School Board Policies section.

  5. Come ready to help

    It’s quite possible that staff at the school would like to be supportive, but don’t know how. To prepare for this, consider providing your child or interested students with resources to share with staff about GSAs and student-led safe space groups in schools. To start, you can find many useful resources on MyGSA.ca, including our Equity and Inclusive Education Resource Kit for Ontario High Schools. This guide includes separate sections for guidance counsellors, administrators and educators, making it easy to customize the information you share. 

  6. Assess your risks

    Before beginning this work, talk with your child and family to get a clear sense of your and their boundaries and expectations. It’s important that no one is unintentionally “outed” in the process of creating a GSA or student-led safe space group. As well, take some time to consider the ways in which your actions might affect your family’s interactions with others at the school. Could bullying become an issue, and what’s your plan if it does? Assess your potential outcomes, including risks, and plan accordingly.

  7. Seek a support Network

    It’s important to seek out some kind of LGBTQ support network as your child seeks to establish a GSA at school. There may be times when such a process has the potential to get stressful, and it’s wise to find ways for you and your child to diffuse that stress. Talk about stress with your child, but be conscious of the boundary between helping your child with their stress, and burdening them with your own. Be sure to support yourself by reaching out to friends, seeking other LGBTQ families, and connecting with local LGBTQ organizations. As well, remember that the MyGSA.ca team is here to support you, and we’ll be happy to discuss any of your questions and concerns at mygsa@egale.ca.