indsor-Essex high school students in gay-straight alliances are learning new skills together this summer through Windsor Pride’s new program: SchoolsOUT.
“We noticed that each of the high schools’ GSAs operated individually,” said Richard DeLisle, special events co-ordinator for Windsor Pride Community. “We decided that if we had this program we could bring all these different schools in, they can talk to each other and learn from each other.”
GSAs are organizations founded and run by students in high schools and post-secondary institutions to create a safe and inclusive space for students regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Rachel Easterbrook, who has been involved in Vincent Massey Secondary School’s GSA from its inception in 2009, explained that, “The GSA just works to make Massey more of a positive space. For those who feel they aren’t comfortable in the school environment, they can come to the GSA meetings or talk to the teacher supervisor and know that someone supports them.”
At SchoolsOUT, participants will learn how to run GSA meetings, create a mission statement, plan events and engage their members through interactive games and other activities. The aim of SchoolsOUT is to strengthen organizational skills and bring members of different GSAs together to socialize and collaborate.
“We’ve always been in support of GSAs and have always aided the GSAs when they’ve come to us, but this is the first time we’ve reached out to them and offered our direct support through a program,” said DeLisle. He added that Windsor Pride Community has assisted GSAs when they need it and that GSA members have participated in initiatives run by Pride in high schools.
Easterbrook is interested in learning how to create a more positive atmosphere at her school through SchoolsOUT program. “I’d like to try and have a dance or something … I’m also trying to get some kind of anti-bullying assembly for the whole school.”
While Easterbrook does not find Massey’s environment overly negative, she still thinks there is more work to be done. “People don’t realize [homophobia and transphobia] is happening,” she explained. “I hear people saying things that they should not be saying– ‘that’s so gay’ is a huge one– but if you go and ask someone, ‘Is there homophobic bullying in the school?’ then they say, ‘Of course not, we’re totally cool with that!’”
According to DeLisle, 12 public schools in the Windsor-Essex area have GSAs, but none have been founded at the Catholic schools. The Ontario government passed Bill 13 in June; an anti-bullying law which stipulates that students wishing to start a GSA at their school must be permitted to do so.
“We’re extending an olive branch to any Catholic students who might be interested in creating a GSA at their school,” DeLisle said. “We are definitely encouraging them to come out to learn the ins and outs of how to run a GSA.”
The Windsor-Essex Catholic School Board publicly opposed the legislation, stating that they would be implementing social equity groups in all Catholic secondary schools in September. They would be inclusive of all groups, not just catering to the LGBTQ community.
Egale Canada, a national LGBTQ human rights organization, released a nationwide study of 3,700 students on gay bullying in May 2011. Half of LGBTQ students in high schools are verbally harassed and 21 per cent have been physically harassed or assaulted about their sexual orientation. It also reports that two-thirds of these students felt unsafe at school.
Homophobia and trans-phobia can lead to bullying of straight students as well. The study found that 10 per cent of students who do not identify as queer or trans are physically harassed or assaulted because of their perceived gender identity or sexual orientation.