There are many types of support groups for lesbian, gay and bisexual youth. These are often called GAY / STRAIGHT ALLIANCES (also referred to as GSAs). The term “gay” in the title is meant to be inclusive of all lesbian, gay, bisexual (and usually transgender) students; some prefer the terms LGBT or Queer. When the term “Queer” is used, it is understood to be a positive and inclusive term, rather than a derogatory word. Most groups try to include transgender students; many others don't, because of the relative invisibility of transgender individuals. “Questioning” youth are very welcome in most of these groups too.
Many groups meet in school settings, while others meet in outside community locations. Some are referred to as Diversity Clubs or Human Rights Clubs. GSA groups happily include heterosexuals and anyone who does not wish to self-identify. All students are invited to attend, but with absolutely no expectation that they will reveal their sexual orientation or gender identity.
GSAs provide all students with a safe place to meet, make friends, and talk about issues and feelings. GSAs can help to improve the school climate for everyone, by promoting discussion about homophobia and transphobia, and their effects on everyone, and by encouraging greater understanding among students and staff alike. Gay / Straight Alliances should be student-led, in the main, with one or two staff members to act as facilitators/advisors. Occasionally, guests are invited, such as LGBT parents, or PFLAG (Parents, Families, Friends of Lesbians & Gays).
Groups tend to change their agenda for each week, depending on the participants' needs. Most try to strike a balance among consciousness-raising, targeting homophobia at school, and offering personal support. Forming and sustaining such school clubs involves considerable work and diplomacy, by both students and staff. All participants must be mindful of the purposes for creating GSAs. They must not become dating clubs, cliquish chat groups, or places for speculation about the personal lives of other persons.
GSAs are in existence in over 900 schools in the USA, and some have been operating for over 10 years. Every Massachusetts high school has one! The experience there has been overwhelmingly positive in terms of educating students, staff and families alike about diversity issues, encouraging a greater degree of mutual understanding, and significantly reducing antigay violence and harassment. Approximately 10 GSAs operate in Ontario at present.
A student in Maple Ridge formed the first GSA in British Columbia, in 1997. Since then, others have been formed in about 12 high schools (as of September 2001). These are located in Comox, Victoria, Smithers, and the Lower Mainland area (Coquitlam, Burnaby, Vancouver, Surrey, and Langley), but there will probably be many more formed in the near future.
In March 2000, the AGM of the BC Teachers' Federation debated and passed a motion to support teachers and teacher locals who work toward the formation of GSAs. This action is in keeping with the BCTF's longstanding concern for the needs of diverse students, and its tradition of activism and action in various areas of Social Justice. Part of this support includes the provision of workshops to teachers on starting GSAs [see page 22 for contact info].
The above is an excerpt from the document ‘Creating and Supporting a Gay/Straight Alliance’ provided by GALE-BC. To read the full article ‘Creating and Supporting a Gay/Straight Alliance’, click here to download the PDF document.
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