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Pride Month: How gay-straight alliances are helping Lethbridge youth

Click to play video: 'Gay-straight alliances put on pause in Lethbridge due to COVID-19' Gay-straight alliances put on pause in Lethbridge due to COVID-19
As Pride Month and the current K-12 school year in Lethbridge come to a close, Eloise Therien has a look at how COVID-19 has impacted the operation of local GSAs, and what the hopes are when schools return to normal in the future. – Jun 21, 2021

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.”

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‘You have to fight’: GSA Students react to Jason Kenney victory – Apr 17, 2019

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.

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“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.

Read more: Alberta legislature passes contentious Bill 24 strengthening gay-straight alliances

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.”

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However, GSAs haven’t always been an option for those in the LGBTQ2S+ community.

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“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.

Read more: Lethbridge city council candidate calls Pride committee ‘not inclusive’ after not inviting him to speak at event

“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.

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