All about Gay-Straight Alliances
By Delaney Rombough
Posted on September 20, 2021
What is a Gay-Straight Alliance?
Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) clubs are student groups that unite youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, two-spirit, and all other non-normative gender and sexual identities, such as non-binary (LGBTQ2+). This club can also be called the Gender-Sexuality Alliance or Queer-Straight Alliance, depending on the school.
In GSAs, LGBTQ2+ and allied students build awareness and support for the LGBTQ2+ community. Allies are people who do not identify as LGBTQ2+ but demonstrate support for the queer community. Most high schools in Canada have a GSA club. They have become an important resource for LGBTQ2+ youth. Every GSA is slightly different depending on the school environment and the students’ needs, but in general, GSAs serve four main purposes:
- Provide a social space for students to meet and connect with other queer and transgender students in their school.
- Provide a safe space for LGBTQ2+ youth to discuss various issues they face in schools and in their communities, such as healthy relationships and discrimination from teachers or school administrators.
- Act as a support group to provide safety and confidentiality to students who are struggling with their identities or are experiencing harassment at school because of their gender or sexual orientation.
- Act as an activist and leadership group to improve the school environment through campaigns and events.
GSAs are meant to be welcoming and inclusive places for all students, regardless of race, religion, gender identity, or sexual orientation. Students who don’t identify as LGBTQ2+ are also welcome to join the club as an ally. GSA clubs may meet once or twice a week either at lunchtime or after school to plan events and campaigns or to simply socialize.
Individual school GSA clubs are also part of the larger network of GSAs around the country. Sometimes GSAs from different schools will get together to organize or host a larger event. Students from GSAs may also be invited to other events and conferences in the area, where they can meet other students from GSAs at other schools.
What does a GSA do?
Throughout the year, GSAs often organize a variety of events and campaigns in their schools. These campaigns could include things like LGBTQ2+ awareness days, anti-slur campaigns, or teacher training. GSAs may also host events such as bake sales or other fundraisers to raise money for local LGBTQ2+ charities, Pride events in June, or school dances where everyone feels welcome.
Each GSA is different and may put on different campaigns and events. It’s all about what the students need and what they want to do. If the students want to put on events to generate awareness about LGBTQ2+ issues then they will do that. If the students simply need a safe space to relax and socialize, GSAs can be that space too.
Leadership and activism
Over time, GSAs have evolved from their traditional role as a safe space for LGBTQ2+ youth to being vehicles for social change related to racial, gender, and educational justice. GSAs empower youth to take action and use their collective power to stand up for their needs and the needs of their communities. GSAs often fight to protect students’ rights, create visibility on campus and in the local community, and shift school policies to create a safer and more inclusive environment for all students.
While there is a teacher supervisor for most GSA clubs, students are the ones who run the meetings, decide what’s important, and plan events. Action may even extend beyond the school where students attend political rallies, community events, and participate in national days of action. Students usually participate in these events on their own time or with permission from the school and their parents. By organizing events and participating in conversations about social justice, GSAs help students develop their leadership skills and become active members of their school and the larger community.
GSAs have been shown to have positive and lasting effects for LGBTQ+ students on their physical health and wellness, mental health, and academic performance. GSAs are also instrumental in protecting students from harassment and discrimination based on their gender identity or sexual orientation and improving school environments for everyone in the long run.