BY CLAIRE CUDAHY
This October, students of the Dryden High School (DHS) Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) group presented each school in the area and the public library with a package of information and books pertaining to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) topics—another milestone for the young club since its official inception last April.
The passing of the Accepting Schools Act, or Bill 13, in September of 2012 paved the way for GSA groups across the province by removing schools’ veto over allowing students to set up clubs called Gay Straight Alliances, among other measures to combat bullying and improve inclusiveness in schools.
“Even just by having the club, no one reacted really badly on any sort of scale that we noticed. It made it more okay to talk about it. Lots of time people would avoid the conversation, but having a Gay Straight Alliance in the school makes it ok for students and teachers to address those issues,” says Regan Neal, DHS student and member of the GSA.
“It’s very important to me as someone who has LGBTQ friends just to see that they are accepted in the school. That’s what has always been important. It’s great to see that the people I care about are supported in the school,” Neal continues.
The GSA group is the brainchild of DHS alumna Rebecca Durance and a student-driven organization, but the club is backed by two staff members, Cynthia Seitz and Sherry Ambridge, who act as resources for staff, a support system for the members, and discussion facilitators during meetings.
“Whatever ideas they have and initiatives that they want to establish, we are there to support them, whether we act as a liaison between administration and the students, or they need help drafting letters, or access to resources they cannot access, then we’re there to help,” says Seitz.
DHS is one of three high schools with GSAs, including Queen Elizabeth District High School in Sioux Lookout and Beaver Brae Secondary School in Kenora, out of the six in the Keewatin Patricia District School Board (KPDSB).
Though there is no GSA at Red Lake District High School (RLDHS), it is something that is on the radar for principal Liz Sidor.
“Our goal is always to put the needs of our kids first, and our kids need this, and other high schools have very successfully and capably put it in place, so I think it’s something that we definitely can do,” says Sidor.
“I think it would be pretty interesting,” says Dakota Jodouin, a ninth grader and student council member who volunteered to speak on the subject of a GSA at RLDHS. “I think a lot of people would like to show who they are but it’s pretty hard when you can’t with everyone around you. I think there would be hesitation but if we got it going it would probably build together.”
From one DHS student to the RLDHS students, Neal says, “Go for it! I don’t think you are going to face very much opposition right now, and if you do, there will be a teacher and there will be students in the school who definitely support you and want to see this happen.”
Canada’s second national GSA summit, OUTShine 2015, will take place in Winnipeg from May 15-17. DHS’s GSA hopes to attend the event for the first time this year.