ATA committee DEHRs to make a difference

February 24, 2015 ATA News Staff

Initiatives underway to make Red Deer schools more welcoming for gender minorities

Almost 15 years after students at Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School in Red Deer established the first gay-straight alliance (GSA) in an Alberta school, a GSA is set to return.

It was toward the end of the 1990s that students, with the assistance of young teacher Darren Lund, established the first such alliance, which lasted a few years. Lund, now a University of Calgary professor and social justice activist, returned to the school in 2014 as a guest speaker and helped inspire the resurrection of the GSA.

“At two packed sessions, Lund reminded teachers of the STOP (Students and Teachers Opposing Prejudice) program that the GSA had operated, and the reception he received overwhelmingly indicated that there was interest in addressing safe school environments and important gender-related issues,” said Patti Yackulic, chair of the Diversity, Equity and Human Rights (DEHR) committee for ATA Red Deer City Local No. 60.

To explore the idea of re-establishing a GSA, the school held an inaugural meeting that attracted 35 students. The group is now getting established with the help of three Lindsay Thurber staff members (Sheena McNiff-Wolfe, Kevin Tennant and Gail Johnston). One of its first decisions will be whether to call the alliance a QSA or a GSA.

The DEHR committee, which formed in 2013, has also been involved in addressing sexual and gender identity issues on a larger scale. In November 2014, committee members delivered a presentation to trustees urging the formation of a separate policy to address the needs of sexual orientation and gender identity minority students and staff. The board agreed and district superintendent Piet Langstraat is in the process of drafting the policy.

Yackulic feels this policy will ensure that the new GSA “has a strong chance of thriving” and being joined by similar alliances in other district schools. Eastview Middle School is also in the midst of exploring the formation of a GSA as the school has embarked upon informational projects, including a pink and purple ribbon event.

“If we can encourage the formation of GSAs throughout the district, our schools will be significantly more welcoming,” Yackulic said.

Alongside the push for a new policy, and motivated by a recent talk by Kristopher Wells of the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the University of Alberta, the DEHR committee has also been spearheading the implementation of the Safe Spaces program, a joint initiative of the ATA and the Society for Safe and Caring Schools and Communities.

The initiative comprises a poster, brochure and sticker designed to identify classrooms and/or schools as safe, inclusive spaces where lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-identified and queer (LGBTQ) students, teachers, friends, families and allies are welcome and supported.

“Safe Spaces is another program that can have a substantial impact; hence, we want to introduce the program in all the district schools,” Yackulic said.  ❚

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