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Overview

GSAs and QSAs are peer support networks run by students and supported by school staff and would be grounded in the principles of promoting:

  • equity for sexual and gender minority students
  • safe, caring and inclusive spaces for all students
  • healthy, respectful environments and relationships to prevent or eliminate bullying and discrimination

As peer support networks, GSAs/QSAs help LGBTQ2S+ students overcome feelings of isolation and alienation that are a result of homophobic and transphobic bullying. They empower students as they develop a sense of belonging in their school. GSAs/QSAs also help interested students become allies for their LGBTQ peers and provide a safe place to help understand and learn how to offer support.

Supporting GSAs

The Education Act (Section 35.1) outlines the roles and responsibilities of school authorities and principals around supporting GSAs and QSAs - so that students can get the support they need - when they need it.

The act:

  • requires school authorities to create welcoming, caring and respectful policies and make them publicly available
  • protects the establishment of GSAs and QSAs to ensure this is done at the school‑level like other student organizations
  • ensures that students are allowed to name a student organization a GSA or QSA
  • ensures principals help students create a GSA or QSA in a timely manner

Why GSAs are important

Unfortunately, many LGBTQ2S+ youth live in fear of being rejected by their family and peers and are afraid of homophobic and transphobic bullying. Many LGBTQ2S+ youth become isolated and believe that they have to hide their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression from the world.

Research tells us that LGBTQ2S+ students are more likely to feel safe and are more comfortable being open about their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression in schools with GSAs/QSAs because they provide a place to create a sense of belonging.

When students feel valued and accepted for who they are, it can positively impact academic performance in school. Other positive impacts of GSAs/QSAs on students' lives can include:

  • higher self-esteem
  • greater school attachment
  • improved attendance
  • increased sense of empowerment and hope
  • new friendships
  • improved home and school relationships
  • more comfortable being visible as LGBTQ2S+ or as allies
  • reduction of stress due to hiding one's identity
  • increased confidence
  • enhanced sense of pride

LGBTQ2S+ infographics

Infographics to show the importance of supporting the LGBTQ2S+ community in Alberta.

Alberta Human Services, 2015

 

Alberta Human Services, 2015

Resources

Information about the importance of GSAs in schools:

Canadian research

Ongoing Canadian research related to supporting LGBTQ2S+ youth:

Role of GSAs

GSAs/QSAs offer various opportunities, including:

  • peer support
  • safe spaces
  • education awareness for LGBTQ2S+ issues
  • inclusiveness
  • allowing for equity and equality to flourish throughout the entire student population
  • support for students who are or have experienced bullying
  • informal activities such as hanging out and talking, spending time with supportive peers

There is no "one-size-fits-all" approach for GSAs/QSAs in schools. Each one is different and should be driven by the needs and goals of each student population and school community will change based on grade level.

Almost all GSA/QSA meetings involve discussions about making our schools and ourselves more inclusive and safer for all students.

GSAs/QSAs help celebrate the uniqueness and importance of diversity and inclusiveness. They help students learn about different life experiences while working to end homophobia, transphobia and promoting equity and quality for all.

All GSAs/QSAs should be safe spaces for students to discuss issues like bullying, coming out and making school more inclusive.

Setting-up a GSA - information for students

Every student has the right to belong to a gay-straight alliance (GSA) or queer-straight alliance (QSA). As a student, you also have the right to start a GSA/QSA if your school does not have one. Look for a diverse group of allies to help start a GSA/QSA in your school. Allies are people who support and stand up for the human and civil rights of people who identify as LGBTQ2S+. Allies could be students or staff.

Find a staff liaison

If your school does not have a GSA/QSA and you would like to start one, the first step is to notify your school leadership, so that they can identify a supportive liaison.

GSA/QSA liaisons add stability and continuity to the group. The liaison can be a teacher, school staff, principal or other school board employees. If your school leadership is unable to find a GSA/QSA liaison, your principal should contact the school board and the Minister of Education will appoint a responsible adult to work with your GSA/QSA.

It is important to approach your school leadership about starting a GSA/QSA, so that they can ensure you have the support you need.

Once your GSA/QSA is in place, continue to work with your school leadership, which includes the principal, as they are an important connection between students, teachers, and the larger community. Supportive school leadership is essential to creating welcoming, caring, respectful, safe and inclusive school environments.

Promote your GSA

Once your GSA/QSA is set-up, discuss the best ways to promote it within your school. Spread the word by using a variety of communication tools. You may consider including messages announcing the first meeting on your school website, school announcements or a poster. Sometimes, just knowing your school has a GSA/QSA makes students feel safe and affirmed, even if they never attend a meeting.

Remember to emphasize that all students are welcome to be part of your school's GSA/QSA. Reach out to both LGBTQ2S+ and non-LGBTQ2S+ students - the group's diversity can be its greatest strength.

Plan the first meeting with your liaison

Once you have a date set for your first meeting, plan the agenda. Here are some things to consider:

  • Icebreaker activity - help get everyone to know each other by doing a team building activity
  • Pick a name for your GSA/QSA - The name is less important than the service GSAs and QSAs provide, but you can choose how you want to be identified as a club. You can be called the GSA or QSA or you can choose a different name such as, but not limited to Straight and Gay Alliance Club, Acceptance Club, Diversity Group or Spectrum Club
  • Determine when, where and how often the group will meet. Some students may feel uncomfortable and nervous when first attending meetings. Try to find a location in your school with a comfortable atmosphere for all group members

Build a strong and effective group

Once you have your club started, you may wish to establish the following:

  • Mission or vision statement - a guiding statement of core principles can help focus your group. You may wish to include principles related to diversity, equity, human rights and social justice.
  • Guidelines - Consider ground rules to guide your group discussions and encourage responsible and respectful behaviours. For effective communication and building trust, it is important to ensure everyone has an opportunity to participate and maintain confidentiality and safety (no gossip or labels).
  • Promote your mission - posters and other forms of communication can educate students and staff about the diversity in your school. It is important to maintain a positive and inclusive tone in all communications.
  • Educate your community - Discuss ways to inform members of your school community that the purpose of a GSA/QSA is to promote a welcoming, caring, respectful, safe and inclusive school environment for LGBTQ2S+ students and their allies.
  • Be inclusive - Make an effort to ensure the GSA/QSA is welcoming of all students with differing abilities, languages, socioeconomic or cultural backgrounds. Your school's GSA should be an inclusive space for everyone.

Ideas for action

Work with the group members to develop an action plan to make your GSA/QSA an active presence in your school. Think about some activities and goals for the group. The possibilities are endless. Be creative and have fun!

Resources

24 hour help

Bullying Helpline: 1-888-456-2323

Family Violence Info Line: 310-1818

Mental Health Helpline: 1-877-303-2642

All of these phone lines run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

If your principal or school leadership will not allow you to start a GSA/QSA or other peer support network, you can contact Alberta Education directly by email at studentsupport@gov.ab.ca.

Please let us know the situation, so that we can help resolve it.

Setting-up a GSA - information for principals

Under Section 35.1 of the Education Act, students have a right to establish a voluntary student organization intended to promote a welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment. This includes GSAs or QSAs.

As a principal, if a student or group of students wish to start a GSA/QSA in your school, you have the responsibility to support them in doing so. Principals must ensure that routine school and administrative practices related to student organizations and activities are done in a manner that respects the privacy and wishes of the individual student participating in a voluntary student organization or activity. School authorities should have a designated privacy officer (Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act or Personal Information Protection Act) to provide advice and guidance on these matters and ensure that personal information is handled appropriately. Please see the Guide to Education: ECS to Grade 12 for more information on student privacy considerations.

Secure a liaison

When students voice the desire to gather as a voluntary student organization, they will need a liaison to support them. There are 3 options for finding a liaison:

  1. staff or school board member
  2. principal
  3. individual appointed by the Minister of Education

The Minister of Education can appoint a liaison if the principal cannot find a liaison. The following steps must be followed in order for the minister to appoint a liaison:

  • principal informs the school board
  • principal informs the Minister by submitting a completed Liaison Appointment Form (PDF, 33 KB)
  • minister will appoint a responsible adult. The search and selection process to identify a liaison may take 2-8 weeks depending on the location and time required for document verification
  • the Alberta Teachers' Association (ATA) will coordinate an initial meeting between the appointed liaison and the principal. They will also assist with identifying a mentor to support the liaison
  • principal acts as the intermediary for the liaison
    • establishes location for meetings
    • introduces the liaison to students/staff
    • supports events
  • if a school or community member subsequently volunteers, the principal informs the appointed liaison and the minister
  • principal reviews the process each September to determine if an appointed liaison is still required and notified the minister
  • if a school or community member volunteers once a liaison has been appointed, the liaison will remain for a transition period

Naming the group

At the first meeting, the students and liaison may discuss what they would like to name the group. Students may choose a respectful and inclusive name, including "gay-straight alliance" or "queer-straight alliance."

Supporting the appointed liaison

The liaison will work with the principal to coordinate the program in the school. This involves setting meeting times that respect student needs and availability.

Resources

  • Liaison Appointment Form (PDF, 33 KB)
    A form for principals to fill out when requesting the minister to appoint a GSA liaison in your school
  • Printable Information Sheet
    Printable information sheet for principals on supporting students to start and maintain a GSA in your school