How did the Calgary GSA Network get started?
The beginnings of the GSA network really began more than a year ago. While teaching comprehensive sexual health education programming in Calgary schools, which includes our “Diversity and Respecting Everyone” (DARE) anti-homophobia and anti-sexism workshop, myself and our other educators would often encounter caring and compassionate teachers who recognized the trials and tribulations of being an LGBTQ youth in Calgary schools. We found that the teachers who were inviting us into their CALM classes were usually also supportive allies to LGBTQ students and often the sponsor teachers for the few GSAs that existed at the time.
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GSAs in Calgary schools
One such person was Omnia Anderson, a counselor at Bowness High School. Omnia approached me noting the struggles she faced maintaining membership and engagement with her GSA group at Bowness. Even though I knew very little of GSAs myself, I went back to the office and hunted down as many resources as I could find. I later visited Omnia to share these materials and resources. Whenever I encountered other GSA sponsor teachers I brought what resources I could. Soon enough I began getting requests from other teachers for these materials.
I also traveled to Edmonton for a few days to learn about the Edmonton GSA Roundtable Meetings as well as Camp FYrefly at the U of A’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services (iSMSS). I was fortunate enough to attend a roundtable meeting where the Edmonton GSA Network met with the then Minister of Education, Thomas Lukazuk, now Deputy Premier of Alberta.
With some guidance from Dr. Kris Wells at the iSMSS, our team worked together to organize our first GSA Roundtable meeting in March of 2012. This meeting was very well attended by educators and support staff as well as supportive community members. The enthusiasm for continuing these meetings was incredible and encouraged us to continue hosting more meetings.
How has the Calgary GSA Network grown since that first meeting?
The word has spread like wildfire.
A preliminary survey of the city revealed only 4 or 5 schools had GSAs at the time, but as the talk on the street of the roundtable meetings grew, more and more schools came out to participate in the conversation about creating safe and supportive environments within Calgary schools. At the beginning of the summer in 2012, we had people from as many as 17 schools attend the roundtable meetings.
To date, over 25 schools (with and without GSAs) and more than 30 supportive community organizations have been involved! Even schools outside of Calgary, including Cochrane, Airdrie and Okotoks, have also came out to attend these meetings.
Anyone and everyone has come out to the meetings to participate in this ever-growing network. The meetings are attended and appreciated by many, including students, teachers, counselors, psychologists, youth support workers, representatives from the Calgary Board of Education, the Alberta Teachers Association, and many many community organizations (like CCASA, Families Matter, and the Calgary Police Service), parents and even grandparents attend!
What topics are discussed and shared at the meetings?
The meetings have always been centred around creating and sustaining safe and supportive environments in school communities for LGBTQ people and their allies. We also always try to have FUN!
The meetings have often taken on different topics of discussion or themes like:
- learning about GSAs and social justice
- homophobic, biphobic and transphobic language and bullying
- LGBTQ allies and their importance
- safety and inclusion
- family and what family means to the LGBTQ community
- community support and resources
- networking with others and community building
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2012 Calgary Pride parade
In addition to our regular meetings, we have had some occasions to celebrate and have fun together as the network grows. For example, last summer we had an incredibly fun BBQ Social in Riley Park. Also, members of the Calgary GSA Network were excited to walk proudly in the Calgary PRIDE parade with their allies in the Alberta Teachers’ Association. A social committee that was formed from the Roundtable meetings organized and hosted their very own Halloween Movie night and donated the proceeds to the Network. And members of Calgary GSAs and the Network, in particular the Forest Lawn GSA, attended the first Annual GSA Conference in Edmonton in November.
This conversation and the interest in networking, building community and advancing the movement to create safe, inclusive and supportive environments in school communities in and around Calgary is still growing.
What do you hope for the next year for the Calgary GSA Network?
Our hope is for this conversation to continue! We hope to further support and connect the GSAs of Calgary and Area with each other and the community that is there to support and celebrate them. We hope to find new and creative ways to engage the youth and their supportive teachers as well as their greater community in making all communities, especially schools, safe and supportive for typically marginalized LGBTQ youth.
If you are interested in learning more about the Calgary GSA Network and Roundtable meetings please feel free to look us up on the facebook at the “Calgary GSA Network” or email Nick Moore (firstname.lastname@example.org) to be added to our mailing list.
Please share this poster for the upcoming Calgary GSA Network meeting and celebration on March 21st!