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This document will hopefully allow you and youth across Ontario schools to
build 2SLGBTQ-spaces in your schools. We’ll begin by providing a step-by-step
framework for beginning and running a 2SLGBTQ-space

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Published by YouthLine, 2020-06-04 11:04:27

2SLGBTQ+ Organizing in Ontario Schools

This document will hopefully allow you and youth across Ontario schools to
build 2SLGBTQ-spaces in your schools. We’ll begin by providing a step-by-step
framework for beginning and running a 2SLGBTQ-space

Keywords: youth,queeryouth,lgbtqyouth,lgbtq,youthline,resource,community,ontario,toronto,canada,gsa,school

2SLGBTQ+ Organizing

in Ontario Schools

This resource was developed by Caleb Wesley in
partnership with LGBT YouthLine. LGBT YouthLine provides peer support

and youth leadership opportunities to 2SLGBTQ+ youth across Ontario.

Hi there, I first want to start this document by telling you a bit
about myself, the principal author for this document. My name
is Caleb Wesley and I am a queer, two-spirit, cisgender male.
I’m an educator, a biologist, and someone who believes in
making change in the world around us. I want you to know that
I’m writing this document from a good place and I hope this
document can help you create change in your world and help
support creating safe and positive spaces across Ontario. I also
wrote the resource FNMI: What’s that? if you wanted to check that out!

Introduction

The term Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) has been used in the past to refer to any
form of LGBTQ2S+ organizing in schools, but this document will move away from
using the term GSA due to the fact that it does not encompass the diversity of
how people experience and express their gender and sexual identities. For this
document we will use 2SLGBTQ+ Positive Spaces (2SLGBTQ-spaces) when talking
about LGBTQ2S+ organizing in Ontario schools.

This document will hopefully allow you and youth across Ontario schools to
build 2SLGBTQ-spaces in your schools. We’ll begin by providing a step-by-step
framework for beginning and running a 2SLGBTQ-space.

We will then be discussing laws that protect your rights and entitle you to create
2SLGBTQ-spaces in your schools; hopefully this will allow you self-advocate for
your rights if you run into troubles from your school’s staff. We’ll then talk about
organizing in Ontario public schools, Ontario catholic schools, Private schools,
and Reserve schools. This is a general document that can be used for either high
schools, middle schools, or elementary schools. Finally, we’ll have a section with
testimonials from other youth who started their own 2SLGBTQ-spaces in their
schools.

1/

General Framework

This framework has been adapted from Egale Canada’s GSA Guide to support
students, educators, and administrators in forming and navigating queer and trans
spaces in Canadian schools. The guide was part of MyGSA.ca, developed in 2015.

To Add a 2SLGBTQ-space in your School

1. Assess your school’s environment
2. Follow all school and school board policies and guidelines
3. Find a school staff advisor/supervisor
4. Speak to your school administration
5. Inform guidance counsellors, social workers, librarians, and other resource people.
6. Find a meeting place
7. Establish a plan and guidelines
8. Advertise your group
9. Provide incentives (snacks, drinks, etc.)
10. Activities (Games, initiatives, outings, etc.)

https://egale.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/MyGSA_ON_Resource_CompleteKit.pdf

1) Assess your school environment

Starting a 2SLGBTQ-space in a school is a big decision;
one of the first things to think about is the school
environment. Ask yourself “Is there a need for a safe
space for queer, trans folks at my school?”- almost
always YES!, “is the environment safe for queer, trans
folks to organize in my school?”- Only you can make the
decision on whether or not your school is safe enough for
a 2SLGBTQ-space; trust your instincts because you know
best!

2/

2) Follow all school and school board
policies and guidelines

There are many school boards in Ontario; they will each
have different regulations and supports around forming
and running student groups. Each school will also have
different policies around forming 2SLGBTQ-spaces;
talk with your school’s principals, vice-principals, and
teachers if you have trouble finding school board polices
and guidelines.

3) Find a school staff advisor/supervisor

One of the realities of being a student in school is that all
student-led groups needs to have a staff supervisor. Staff
can also be invaluable resources to help with navigating
the policies and guidelines of the school, school board,
and the Ministry of Education.

4) Speak with your school principal

Principals and Vice-principals should be informed of
your intention to form a 2SLGBTQ-space in your school
because they may offer assistance or guidance, if
needed. Please know that Principals and school boards
cannot restrict you from starting a 2SLGBTQ-space in
most cases.

5) Inform other school staff

You can inform school staff like guidance counsellors,
librarians, and teachers about your intention to start a
2SLGBTQ-space. Principals and Vice-principals can also
inform the staff for you on your behalf.

3/

6) Find a Meeting Place

Finding a place to meet is pretty straight-forward. Find a
classroom or space that is not being used at the time you
are meeting. You can meet before school, during recess,
lunch, or after school.

7) Establish a plan and guidelines

This is where you put your hopes and dreams for your
2SLGBTQ-space into action. Think about why you want
to start a queer and trans space at your school, what do
you want your group to be about or accomplish, what
rules do you think should be in place for your group?

8) Advertise your group

Posters! Flyers! Social Media posts! Announcements! Do
whatever you can to advertise your group and get the word
out there!

9/10) Provide Incentives and Activities

Your school may have a small budget for funding student-
run groups; ask if you could get some money for activities
and outings. Some activities to do with your 2SLGBTQ-
space are to have crafting events, movie or tv show
viewings, and outings to community events.

If your school isn’t welcoming to the idea of a 2SLGBTQ-space in your school, you still
deserve to have a safe space. There have been some 2SLGBTQ-spaces in the past
that were completely underground; they weren’t affiliated with the schools at the
beginning and were just student-led groups, outside of school. If your school won’t
allow you to form a 2SLGBTQ-space (which is absurd and against your human rights!),
you can still form groups outside of school spaces.

4/

What does
the law say?

Ontario Law Federal Law

Education in Ontario is governed by a Another interesting law to be aware
bunch of different groups, including the of is the Canadian Charter of Human
Ministry of Education, 79 School Boards, Rights and Freedoms. Since most
and thousands of school principals. schools are open to the public (this
In 2012, the Legislative Assembly applies to even private schools), they
of Ontario passed a bill called the are considered public services and
Accepting Schools Act (Bill 13) where are subject to human rights acts (both
it outlined how the Province wanted provincially and federally), preventing
to create more inclusive school schools from legally discriminating
environments. Bill 13 specifically against protected identities, including
talks about creating queer and trans sexual identity, gender identity, and
inclusive spaces in Ontario schools. gender expression. Not allowing you
to form a 2SLGBTQ-space can be
Most schools in Ontario are legally considered a form of discrimination and
obligated to allow students to form a violation of your human rights.
their own student organizations in their
schools. Bill 13 also says that Principals https://www.ola.org/en/legislative-
and administrative staff cannot prevent business/bills/parliament-40/session-1/bill-
students from forming their own 13
student-led groups. Student-led groups
include a bunch of different groups that
promote gender equity, anti-racism,
awareness and respect for people with
disabilities, and people of all genders
and sexual orientations.

Naming Your Group

Another legal protection that you’re
entitled to is if you do choose to form
a student-led group, your group can
choose whatever name you want for
the group, within reason. You school’s
staff cannot dictate what you call your
group, so feel free to call it whatever
you want.

5/

Public Schools Private Schools and
Reserve Schools
Public schools will have to follow the
laws outlined in our previous section Private schools and Reserve schools
word for word because they are occupy a unique space. Since most private
publically funded. One of the things you schools are considered public spaces,
will have to look into are the specific they must follow provincial and federal
rules and regulations associated with laws that protect your human rights and
your local school board; remember allow you to form 2SLGBTQ-spaces without
there are 79 in Ontario - make sure you discrimination. Private schools may not
got the right one. All school boards in be subject to certain laws other schools
Ontario should have policies around may be subject to, but luckily this isn’t
safe schools and inclusion so there too big of a problem because you are still
should be resources out there. If you protected by federal and provincial laws.
aren’t able to find them on Google, When trying to form a 2SLGBTQ-space in
maybe get in touch with the librarian or private schools, it’s best to discuss with
principal/vice-principal to help. your school’s Principal on any guidelines
that are specific to your school.

Organizing on reserve schools can be very
similar to private schools. Schools that
are on reserves that are enacting their
own self-governance may or may not be
subject to certain provincial or federal
laws. I would say it’s best to defer to your
schools principals and vice principals.
Some reserves are also quite conservative
or religious, so that is another layer of
complexity to consider when forming a
2SLGBTQ-space. Just remember that you
are just as entitled to have a safe space at
school!

Catholic Schools

Publicly funded Catholic schools in Ontario are accountable to the provincial and
federal government, so even though Catholic schools are unique and separate from
public schools, the laws that control public schools also govern most Catholic schools.
Catholic schools are supposed to follow the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,
so discrimination based on sexuality and/or gender identity is prohibited. Preventing
you from forming a GSA/2SLGBTQ-space in your school can be considered a form of
discrimination. Most Catholic school boards will not have any guidelines for forming
2SLGBTQ-spaces or even supports for queer, trans students, but you are still protected by
federal and provincial laws.

6/

Robby Thompson Quotes from other
folks who started their

own 2SLTBQ-spaces

“Religious high schools that Jewish Queer community. My teacher
representative was Mr. B (changed for
have GSAs are usually discussed from privacy reasons), the very flamboyantly
a Catholic perspective as there are not homosexual general studies teacher who
many other religious private institutions had a passion to support queer youth. I
that exist. There is, however, one that guess one could say it is a cliche to enlist
exists for the Jewish community. That of the help of a queer educator, but in an
TanenbaumCHAT. The student population environment like CHAT, no other teacher
was mainly secular jewry and my peers was willing to do it in fear of being looked
were very progressive. The staff on the down upon administration for supporting
other hand was mostly orthodox and a group that had “different values”
conservative Jews that strictly follow the than the Torah. The group consisted of
Torah and its commandments. One of myself and 7 other members, all of whom
which is that homosexuality is forbidden. identified themselves as allies. It was
I entered high school and for two years disheartening to know that I had such a
there was no GSA. It almost was like a small group, especially that there were
taboo topic, despite the school having no openly queer students that joined, in
a fair number of LGBTQA+ community comparison to other student activities but
members. In grade 11, when my passion there was one thing that was different.
for social justice really sparked, I
decided to start a GSA, called “keshet” When you step foot into the classroom
which means rainbow in Hebrew. The where Keshet would happen, you would
administration of the school did not let the just feel accepted. It was a nice escape
group be called a gay straight alliance, or from the going-ons of high school, like
LGBT supportive space. Basically anything peer pressure and cliques. Everyone felt
that has to do with being queer could not equal and welcome and loved. If I could
be in the group name. It was simply called, offer advice to someone who wants to
“rainbow”. open a GSA, it would be to just go for it.
You may not realize it now but your GSA
Through my grade 11 and grade 12 years, will be a tolerant space for everyone to
I would hold monthly meetings that attend, regardless of their identity. It really
would cover different topics related to will make a change in your school. And
sexual and gender identity. Sometimes if there is any backlash from parents or
we would just talk about drag race, other administration, you can simply tell them, in
times we would watch documentaries spirit of my friend Latrice Royale, to EAT IT!”
and look at famous people of the

7/

Benjamin Kent Quotes from other
folks who started their

own 2SLTBQ-spaces

Why did you decide to start a GSA /queer and trans space at
your school?

I decided to start a GSA at my school because I wanted to create a safe space
within my school for other students, and to potentially meet some other queer
folks who might not be comfortable being ‘out’ within the overall school but would
feel able to within our group.

What was your experience running a GSA / queer and trans
space at your school?

It was really great to see the support we got from some teachers as well as
from allies who joined the club. I loved being able to show people the breadth
of our community and to organize events to bring awareness to LGBTQ issues
and events. We hosted movie nights and had displays in the hallways, as well as
announcements to let students know about things such as Pride Prom.

What advice do you have to other youth wanting to start a
GSA / queer and trans space at their schools?

My advice is more general since a lot has changed since I started my school’s
first (and likely still only) GSA in 2011 - but know what your rights are and don’t be
afraid to demand they be respected – my school’s administration was not fully
supportive of our GSA, but I had enough faculty support to make things happen
– find that support for you, if you need it! Keep the meetings safe and confiden-
tial – I found our meetings to be more productive and enjoyable for all when there
was an element of anonymity that allowed other students to feel protected from
less supportive groups within the student body. You won’t necessarily win over
the whole faculty or student body – and that’s okay! Create a space that makes
sense for you and your goals, and focus on that.

8/

Resources

Native Youth Sexual Health Network (NYSHN) contribution:
Rural Indigenous GSA in Battleford, SK

http://www.safeandcaring.ca/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Two-Spirited-Web-
Booklet.pdf

Equity and Inclusion Education Resource Kit for Ontario High Schools

https://egale.ca/portfolio/mygsa/

Toronto District School Board (TDSB) GSA Q&As

https://www.tdsb.on.ca/High-School/Get-Involved/Student-Leadership/GSAs/
Frequently-Asked-Questions

Bill 13, Accepting Schools Act, 2012

https://www.ola.org/en/legislative-business/bills/parliament-40/session-1/bill-13
https://ccla.org/cclanewsite/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/LGBTQ-Rights-in-Schools-

CCLA-and-CCLET-FINAL.pdf

9/

The YouthOrganize Resource Series was created in 2020 to support 2SLGBTQ+
youth organizing in their communities. The series includes the following
resources:

• Organizing 101: A Step by Step Tool
• Organizing 201: Going Deeper
• Accessibility and Organizing
• Active Listening for Organizers
• FNMI: What’s That?
• 2SLGBTQ+ Organizing in Ontario Schools

LGBT YouthLine is a Queer, Trans, Two-Spirit* youth-led organization that
affirms and supports the experiences of youth (29 and under) across Ontario.
We do this by:

• Providing anonymous peer support and referrals;
• Training youth to provide support to other youth; and
• Providing resources so youth can make informed decisions.

For more information about LGBT YouthLine, our programs, and to access
these resources, visit https://www.youthline.ca/

Funded by

*Language: 2SLGBTQ/Queer, Trans, Two-Spirit
We use 2SLGBTQ+ (Two-Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, Queer) and
Queer, Trans, Two-Spirit interchangeably as umbrella terms to
identify the youth that we serve. We acknowledge that these
terms cannot/do not encompass the rich diversity of identities
that may fall under these umbrellas, including two-spirit, lesbian
gay, bisexual trans, genderqueer, intersex, queer, questioning,
asexual, aromantic, non-binary or any other non-normative
identities related to sexuality and gender.

10 / Graphic design by Laura Hui


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