Students in the LGBTQ2S+ community and their allies have an opportunity to support one another with gay-straight alliances (GSAs) or queer-straight alliances (QSAs) in Alberta’s schools.
For Grade 10 Lethbridge student Ash Siever, having a GSA at their school has been helpful in seeking support from peers and staff.
“Going to the GSA and knowing that I was safe — just having it there even if I didn’t show up — it was a comfort,” they explained.
However, with the COVID-19 pandemic persisting throughout the 2020-21 school year, Ash hasn’t been able to participate in the weekly club — nor has anyone else.
“I definitely missed it and meeting new people and being able to participate in the queer community at LCI.”
Ash hopes that when the club can resume, it continues to expand. Prior to the pandemic, they said around 15 to 20 students would typically attend.
“I would love for it to grow. I think different GSAs across the city connecting would be great, and I think it’s something we need.”
“It could be potentially the only outlet for youth who have nowhere to go (with) their own family,” said Kim Siever, Ash’s father.
Samuel Yamamoto, a GSA advisor at Lethbridge Collegiate Institute, believes all schools should have some form of a gay-straight alliance.
According to the Lethbridge School Division, four of its high schools and four of its middle schools have established a GSA.
“Studies have shown that even if the majority of the student body is not involved in the GSA, the existence of having a GSA within the school makes the school a better place, a safer space,” Yamamoto said.
“It’s just a time for the kids to get together with like-minded individuals, it is a support group. It’s a place where kids can really be safe with each other.”
However, GSAs haven’t always been an option for those in the LGBTQ2S+ community.
“I think back to my time in high school and my earlier years, I wish I had such a resource like that,” said Lane Sterr, chair of the Lethbridge Pride Fest.
Sterr said he attended a religious school in a small British Columbia town, and didn’t feel supported in his youth.
“By having a GSA or having some kind of support system such as that, I think you can let these children flourish and just be themselves.”
If a school doesn’t have a GSA, anyone is welcome to start one. Resources on doing so are available on the province’s webpage.