Setting up a GSA

Example GSA proposal

Proposal for the establishment of a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) at Walkerville Collegiate Institute (WCI)

Submitted by: Joey Wright

Submitted to: Greater Essex County District School Board

Mission Statement

The Gay-Straight Alliance is a youth leadership organization that is devoted to education, human rights and human dignity of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning youth, the development of positive relationships, and to raise awareness. The goal of this group is to:

  • Positively impact academic performance, school/social/and family relationships, comfort level with sexual orientation, sense of physical safety, student and teacher attitudes, perceived ability to contribute to society, and an enhanced sense of belonging to the school community
  • Form alliances and positive relationships between gay and straight students to fight homophobia, isolation, marginalization, violence, and exclusion in the community
  • Promote acceptance, respect, and tolerance of all individuals regardless of racial background, socio-economic status, gender, religion, or sexual orientation
  • Raise awareness and promote education about homophobia and other forms of oppression
  • Offer support and resources for students in need.

What is a Gay-Straight Alliance?

A GSA is a student-run group that provides a safe place for any and all students to meet and learn about all different orientations, to support each other while working together to end homophobia and to raise awareness and promote equality for all human beings. In addition to being a group dedicated to support, it also strives to educate the surrounding areas and the community on different gender and equality issues.

Why do all schools need to establish GSAs if requested?

I believe that it is vital to establish a GSA for numerous reasons, but most importantly, for education purposes. Additional justifications for the establishment of a GSA are to empower and educate the school community, advocate for just and equal policies that protect youth from harassment and violence, and organize in coalition with other school-based clubs and groups across identity lines to address broader issues of oppression. As young people, we possess the power to lead the fight against homophobia, transform our environment into one of peace and safety, and change the lives of countless individuals. Research indicates that homophobia interferes with the health development of all young people, particularly those who are dealing with issues of sexual orientation. One of the many places gay and lesbian youth feel the effects of homophobia is within their schools.

Although other groups currently exist at Walkerville, such as Safe Schools and S.E.E.D., these groups deal with specific needs relating to bullying and cultural diversity. A GSA would provide an atmosphere that is more accepting for students who may not fit in, or feel comfortable in other groups. The GSA would not be a social club—the ultimate goal is education. Our goal is to meet the specific and unique needs of LGBTQ students and although we appreciate the support from other school groups, we truly believe that a safe place for these students to meet, where they do not need to be afraid or uncomfortable, can only be met by the establishment of a Gay-Straight Alliance, as has been historically documented around the world, including in other schools throughout Ontario.

Numerous studies indicate the increased success rate of academic achievement of LGBTQ students when given this type of environment. The Triangle Program, which serves the unique needs of LGBTQ students, is an example of how public school boards are recognizing the need of these youth. The Triangle Program is an alternative education program designed for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students who are at risk of dropping out or committing suicide because of homophobic harassment in regular schools. Operated by the Toronto District School Board at the campus of Oasis Alternative Secondary School, Triangle is the only program of its type in Canada. It was created as an organization in 1995.

As the results of the First National Survey on Homophobia and Transphobia in Canadian Schools, conducted by Egale Canada, demonstrate, LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-gendered, questioning) youth in Canada desperately require more support and resources in their educational institutions in order to make them safe, secure, and inclusive learning environments. There is a clear indication that according to over 1200 participants from every province and territory in the country, of the self-identified LGBTQ students, 41% have been sexually harassed, over half have been verbally harassed, and over a quarter have been physically harassed because of their sexual orientation, and over two-thirds feel unsafe at school. These upsetting results can no longer be ignored and the establishment of a GSA could reverse these alarming statistics.

Schools have an obligation to support and enhance the self-esteem of all students regardless of their sexual orientation. They are also a logical place to provide accurate information. The fact that students are beginning to request that their schools have GSAs is an indication that there is a need that is being unmet. For us to come forward, prepared to educate others about what we strongly believe in, we should be commended, not restricted or rejected. We believe that it is the responsibility of the school to first ensure that our academic needs are met, but that are our safety, security, and a sense of belonging are also being met. Many LGBTQ students feel that their academic needs, at times, have not been met because of their unique situation of not having their minority experiences and concerns being addressed inside and outside of the classroom. A GSA would be a wonderful start. We cannot continue to be marginalized and excluded in a school that promotes equity, equality, and diversity.

It is strongly believed that a heightened self-esteem and sense of self-worth, combined with feelings of belongingness and acceptance will have a positive impact on the academic achievement and peer relationships of all students involved with this group. Our group will be dedicated to ensuring that the needs of all students will be met as mentioned in the mission statement of this internationally recognized group.

Schools all over North America that have been silent on these issues, eventually, through education or the courts have come to realize the need for GSAs in schools. Numerous studies have indicated that the establishment of GSAs helps to curb issues such as suicide, depression, dropping out of school, violence, isolation, homelessness, and health concerns of LGBTQ students.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that our lives begin to end the day we become silent about that things that matter. That being said, we plan to raise our voices and be heard until all individuals are afforded equal human rights and privileges.

Precedent

The precedent has been set in school boards across Ontario. 50% of schools in the Peel district of Toronto have GSAs and there have been 12 established in Guelph. We will be contacting and working with other school boards to implement our GSA here at Walkerville. Not only are there no established GSAs in the GECDSB, but there are few support groups to compensate for this. Establishing a GSA at Walkerville is an indication that we are changing with the times and are ready to be leaders in the community, not only for the establishment of GSAs but also for equality and human rights and the elimination of homophobia here in Windsor and eventually Canada. Within the next few years, it is our hope that GSAs will be established in the majority of high schools throughout Canada. Egale, a Canadian organization, is in the process of organizing the establishment of GSAs all over the country. It is only a matter of time before they begin establishing GSAs here in Windsor.

How will this be an educational group?

Throughout the year we will be collecting resources and researching methods on how to help educate not only the students but also the teachers here at Walkerville. A lot of students are unaware of how gay-bashing affects the lives of the people around them. Terms like "faggot" and "dyke" are used daily in the halls of Walkerville. When this type of discriminatory behaviour is ignored the school consciously or unconsciously encourages this harassment. They need to be informed of ways to prevent this type of radical bullying against gay, lesbian, questioning, bisexual, transgendered, or straight students. We will also be working closely with S.E.E.D and the Safe schools Committee to create an atmosphere of positive or safe space for every student here at Walkerville. In a report issued by the Safe Schools Action Team and from the Ministry of Education, they make this recommendation that the schools in Ontario need to "work with education partners to revise the curriculum to ensure gender-based violence, homophobia, sexual harassment and inappropriate sexual behaviour are discussed in the classroom."

First hand account

"I came out the summer of 2007. Up until then, I had had mixed feelings and opinions questioning my sexuality. I'd say from grade five until then, I had bizarre feelings such as 'He has a nice body, but no—I think she's hot. Gay—me? Never.' That is the confusion I had to endure until then. Then after a trip with my Dad the summer of 2007 and hearing him gay-bash towards homosexuals, I could not take it anymore. That is when I knew for sure the person I truly was. When I got home, I talked to my Mom (who I have always been close with) about the trip and how my Dad's words had made me feel very uneasy. Then she said that no matter what, people are people and we should be willing to accept all kinds. After she said that, I told her I was gay. Like any parent, naturally they were surprised. Nonetheless, she was very supportive, gave me a hug and told me that she would love me no matter what. Because I am half Italian, half Greek, naturally I had to be careful based on what the family would think because of traditional beliefs towards people who are gay and lesbian. Especially based on my Dad's remarks made during the trip, and towards his very own cousin (who is a very successful realtor in Toronto). Because being homosexual is something that is life-changing, Mom sent me to a family counselor to help me build up the confidence and to help me get a grip because this was very new to me, and I still had a lot of fear. The most important thing he told me was that I, and only I would know when the time is right to tell my Dad. Now to 2008, my Grandfather (Dad's Dad) died just before my birthday. Culturally, it is customary in the Greek-Orthodox culture to have a 40-day memorial ceremony. I thought to myself that knowing my Grandfather, he would want us to go on as a happy family and Dad and I argue constantly, mainly because he still thought I was a heterosexual and expected me to behave like one. I finally got the courage to tell him on the way to school one morning. He claimed to accept it, but then he gave me a guilt trip since he would not be able to become a Grandfather. Over time, he is growing to accept it but I still don't think he does. He has the mentality that it is okay for me to be gay, but I can't have a relationship. Naturally through Facebook and word of mouth, my entire family, except for one person knows and everyone except for two are very accepting. The way I look at, coming from very traditional European backgrounds, I lucked out."

-Student Attending Walkerville

"When I came out to my dad, I was living with him at the time. I told him on a warm summer night, with my cousin who I had already told sitting next to me. At first he seemed confused, then after a moment his confusion turned to anger and he couldn't determine how this happened. He threw his drink and got in his truck and sat there. My cousin gave me a hug and said that he was proud and then went to talk to my dad. They argued for a minute then my dad sped out of the driveway. My cousin walked up to me and I whispered, 'What did he say?' My cousin thought for a moment before telling me, 'He said that he makes fun of people like you.' We walked inside and I packed my bag, knowing full well that I wouldn't be welcome but not knowing for how long, so I packed as much as I could. I ended up staying at various places for three days before having to go back home to get some more clothes. When I got there, my dad refused to look or even speak to me. It took him another week before he finally asked if he could talk to me, and when he did he still wasn't very sensitive about the subject. I know that there are countless more students in Canada who have either dealt with that scenario or will deal with that scenario. The establishment of a GSA here at Walkerville will give hope to those students here who will have to face discrimination not just at school, work or when they are out on the street, but in the most important place of all, at home."

-Student Attending Walkerville

Works Cited

(2009) http://schools.tdsb.on.ca/triangle/

(2009) http://www.gsanetwork.org/

Martin, S. R. (1996). A child's right to be gay: Addressing the emotional maltreatment of queer youth. Hastings Law Journal 48 (1). pp167-182.

Taylor, C., Peter, T., Schachter, K., Paquin, S., Beldom, S., Gross, Z., & McMinn, TL. (2008). Youth Speak Up about Homophobia and Transphobia: The First National Climate Survey on Homophobia in Canadian Schools. Phase One Report. Toronto ON: Egale Canada Human Rights Trust.