GSAs: Helping students feel safe at school

Gender and Sexuality Alliances (or Gay Straight Alliances) are common in Ontario high schools.  These groups run differently from school to school; some groups plan awareness campaigns and activities in their schools and cFullSizeRenderommunities while others might gather together to enjoy pizza and music together. Whatever the meeting agenda, the result is the same: students have a place to go where they can feel safe. For some of these students, it might be the only time they feel safe during the day. For that reason alone, it is important for every school to have such a group.

While doing research for an upcoming Lunch and Learn session with teachers about the importance of having a GSA in their school, I came across an article that really answered the “Why have a GSA?” question. A Toronto Star article from February 17, 2014 presents powerful findings:

  • “In schools with GSAs for at least three years, instances of homophobic discrimination and suicidal thoughts among lesbian, gay and bisexual students were cut by more than half. And heterosexual boys were half as likely to attempt suicide than straight boys in schools without gay-straight alliances.”
  • “When schools had anti-homophobic policies for at least three years, instances of suicidal thoughts and suicidal attempts by gay and bisexual boys were more than 70 per cent lower compared to gay and bisexual boys in schools without them. For lesbian and bisexual girls instances were two-thirds lower.”

By having and sustaining a GSA, schools can help to promote awareness and acceptance and reduce stigmas associated with the LGBTQ community. These alliances can help students learn how to use more inclusive language and how to stand up for one another.

The bottom line:  this isn’t just a gay problem. This type of harassment and stereotyping can affect anyone, regardless of whether or not they identify as LGBTQ. ALL students need to feel safe in their schools regardless of gender identity and sexual orientation, or any other difference for that matter.  Having a GSA is just one way that schools can work towards a more inclusive, safe environment where all students can learn and grow.

If you would like more information about Equity and Inclusive Education in SCDSB Schools, please contact me at spowell@scdsb.on.ca.
To stay up-to-date on related events and campaigns, follow us on Twitter @equityinaction.

~ Shayla Powell, IRT – Equity and Inclusion