The Crooked Road from Gay and Straight to Gender and Sexuality
Updated: Mar 27
by Robin Singer
GSA clubs (formerly Gay Straight Alliance, now Gender and Sexuality Alliance) have played an important role in North American schools for more than three decades. Initially created to provide support for LGB students, they now push kindergarten picture books telling four-year-olds they can change sex, and actively drive a trans and BIPOC (Black Indigenous People Of Colour) agenda.
The American GSA Network says, “GSAs have evolved beyond their traditional role to serve as safe spaces for LGBTQ+ youth in middle schools and high schools, and have emerged as vehicles for deep social change related to racial, gender, and educational justice.”
The first GSA club was founded in 1988 by history teacher, Kevin Jennings in Massachusetts, USA. Jennings went on to found the Gender and Sexuality Alliance Network, formerly the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN). One original student GSA member, S. Bear Bergman, now living in Toronto, went on to write an article for the Huffington Post in 2015, “I Have Come to Indoctrinate Your Children Into My LGBTQ Agenda (And I'm Not a Bit Sorry).”
Canada’s first GSA club was established in 1998 at Pinetree Secondary School in Coquitlam, British Columbia, while Justin Trudeau was a teacher there. Pinetree held the first Pride Day in Canada in 2002, and it included an assembly presentation on transgender rights as well as Pride workshops and information booths. In May 2019, the school famously welcomed Trudeau for a return visit.
In 2008, Kitchener, Ontario became the location of Ontario’s first elementary school GSA, sometimes called a “Rainbow Club.” The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and Canadian Safe Schools Network (CSSN), enthusiastically support GSA clubs, and presented a Toronto teacher its “Award of Excellence” for pioneering a middle school GSA at their gala at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel.
In 2022, a child and youth education coordinator for OUT Saskatoon said, “At this point, with middle school and high school students, it’s just an assumption that there’s going to be a GSA at their school.”
Canadians named their clubs variously. Some were called queer-straight alliances (QSA), Allosexuelle-heterosexuelle (AAH), alliance gaie-hetero (AGH), and Catholic School Boards have called them inclusivity clubs or claimed the right “to call them whatever they choose.”
The Canadian government is heavily invested in supporting two national charitable organizations which support and guide GSA clubs:
The first national charitable 2SLGBTQI organization,EGALE, was established in 1986, by political lobbyist, Les McAfee and was known as Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere. Its purpose was to lobby the Canadian Federal Government to extend prohibited grounds of discrimination to include sexual orientation under the Human Rights Code, but its mandate moved beyond its initial focus to include public education, resources, advocacy, litigation and expert consultations on various LGBTQ+ issues. As of 2018, EGALE CANADA had 3,300 members from across Canada and receives millions of dollars annually from the federal government, provincial governments and corporations.
Egale’s charitable partners https://egale.ca/our-partners/
EGALE specifically launched MyGSA.ca (@mygsa) in 2010. Its mission was to make Canadian schools safer, more LGBTQ inclusive and to provide educational resources, bursaries and funding. The image below includes a sample of several online courses. During the recent pandemic, EGALE created a guide for virtual GSAs, and their school education resources are vast.
The other national Canadian 2SLGBTQI charitable organization is The Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity (CCGSD), (formerly Jer’s Vision: Canada’s Youth Diversity Initiative). It was founded by Jeremy Dias with the proceeds from a 2005 human rights settlement. The website states its purpose is to “empower gender and sexually diverse communities through education, research, and advocacy in a world without discrimination with a particular commitment to BIPOC (Black Indigenous People Of Colour) communities.”
The organization receives the majority of its revenue in the form of grants from the Government of Canada and the Province of Ontario and the website notes that continued operations are dependent on the continuation of these grants. Notably, CCGSD protested the Ontario government's defunding of virtual gender-affirming care in Dec 2022.
Ontario was the first province to legislate “tolerance clubs and student associations” (Bill 13 Accepting Schools Act 2012) in order to “counterattack bullying of students, particularly those of a racial or sexual minority.” Other provinces and territories have created similar legislation and all jurisdictions permit GSA clubs. Legislation regarding student associations is provincial.
In addition to GSAs, many districts and cities now have annual conferences and Summer Camps to bring students together, such as these:
OK2BME GSA Conference 2023, No Fear to be Queer: Creating Communities of Celebration and The EnVision Conference is an annual TDSB GSA board-wide gathering of 2SLGBTQIA+ students and allies. The focus of this year's conference is 2SLGBTQIA+ Indigenous, Black, and Racialized Joy, Intersections, and Futurity.
Camp fYrefly is an educational, social, and personal leadership retreat for queer and trans youth under the auspices of the University of Alberta.
The Evolving Role of GSAs
GSA Club activities provide social support and activist services. They vary widely as one would expect given the age range from elementary school through high school. The SOGI 123 website suggests activities may range from organizing a tea party to sharing personal stories, while the TDSB website suggests, “GSAs also often conduct student and teacher sensitivity training. GSAs can also be places of advocacy against all forms of oppression that the students in them face. This includes homophobia and transphobia, but can also include racism, sexism, ableism, religious discrimination, and more.”
As well as receiving financial support from national charities as mentioned earlier, GSA clubs enjoy school board discretionary funding and have access to abundant resource material. This 128-page GSA Handbook, available as a pdf from CCGSA, has three pages of ideas for meetings and many more for all the “Days of Significance” like “Days of Pink.” Some of these campaigns may be nation-wide campaigns, such as “Day of Silence,” “Transgender Day of Remembrance” and “National Coming Out Day,” which are planned and prepared by students and staff together in GSA clubs.
“Days Of Pink” is one of several national campaigns spearheaded by the CCGSD. A TDSB teacher told the CBC, "We know that two-spirit, trans and BIPOC queer people, especially, need a space to connect outside of the home." Advocates say they need to keep the focus of LGBTQ kids on their problems because LGBTQ youth need support to combat homophobia, transphobia, bullying and discrimination against those in the LGBTQ community all year – even if it means celebrating diversity through challenging heterosexism and cissexism as the “Days of Pink” poster above suggests.
TDSB Elementary School GSA Network has created a fascinating 16-minute Pride Compilation Video of GSA activities below. Ottawa Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) held an online event as part of the annual Rainbow Youth Forum 2022. The event was open to all 2SLGBTQ+ OCDSB students, OCDSB staff, community organizations and parents/guardians supporting an attending student. Activities included Drag Workshop, Drag Storytime, Queer Rights, and Trans Resources. Clearly, the roles and activities of GSA Clubs are evolving rapidly and the public is noticing.
TDSB Elementary Pride Video https://youtu.be/8ABMmTcR37M
Pushback To GSA Clubs
Former teacher Robert Pondiscio, responding in a June 2022 Washington Post article about GSA clubs being under attack said, “it is unsurprising that some parents are raising the alarm when confronted with school-sanctioned programs or messages that go against their personal beliefs or their view of what is appropriate for a public school to promote.”
“Everything that happens inside a school is by definition public, and it’s a manifestation of someone’s values. When school-presented values take on the patina of what we’re discussing as culture war — when they take an activist tinge — then you’re going to have fights.”
Parental concerns have caused some suspension and/or formation of GSA clubs. Concerns are particularly fraught around the issue of students “transitioning” their gender at school without parental consent or knowledge and student surveys on sexuality. Survey results are not typically anonymous. Peel District School Board (PDSB) says, “The census is confidential but not anonymous. Only PDSB’s Research and Accountability unit will have access to the data.”
In Canada, controversy over gender ideology indoctrination was raised in several provinces during the municipal election of school trustees. CBC commented that, “Dozens of anti-trans candidates are running for school board trustee positions across Canada, and many are doing it with the help of conservative lobby groups.” Parental concerns over gender ideology teaching is interpreted as “anti-trans” by journalists and trans rights activists.
One of these trustee candidates was Chanel Pfahl who is an Ontario teacher recently investigated (and cleared) by the Ontario College of Teachers for private Facebook group comments. In his letter of support to the Ontario College of Teachers on Chanel’s behalf, Peter Wallace wrote:
She has taken a brave and principled stand against teaching children a divisive ideology that aims to have them see themselves primarily as being members of abstract “identity groups” based on their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc. The damage to their sense of a common shared humanity is further compounded when they are taught to view their relationships with their peers (and broader society) as one of being locked in perpetual power struggles based on what can only be described as Marxist notions of “oppressor groups” vs “oppressed groups.
As mentioned in The Washington Post, Canadians too have deep concerns that elementary school teachers hide students’ participation in GSA clubs from parents. Their fear is that the GSA students’ trans-positive affirmations will increase the “stunning and brave” social contagion so that immature and confused youngsters may become caught up in a school-to-gender-clinic pipeline without parents’ knowledge.
This concern is the title of the article written by American writers Colin Wright and Christina Buttons who, out of curiosity, enrolled in a Facebook Group’s virtual panel discussion entitled “Creating and Sustaining GSAs in Elementary Schools” and wrote about it. The article refers to US GSA clubs but might equally apply to Canada given the GSA clubs’ parallel developmental and political trajectories. They conclude:
Our investigation revealed that some teachers really are keeping secrets from parents. Clubs that are “talking really explicitly and seriously about sexuality and gender” are being held during school hours in order to not require permission slips. When parents voice concerns they are gaslit or lied to about the explicit nature of the discussion topics. And, most of all, school staff will ignore and even flagrantly mock a parent’s request to not perform psychosocial interventions on their children and to refer to their child by their legal name and sex-based pronouns. We did not expect to have all of our preconceptions regarding activist teachers confirmed, but confirmed they were.
The cultural climate in schools is changing rapidly. There is anecdotal evidence from LGB students that, although lesbian, gays and bisexuals are included under the Pride umbrella, their views on biological sex are unwelcome in some Canadian GSA Clubs. Clearly, lesbians, gays, and bisexuals are same-sex attracted, not same-gender attracted and this view can be “problematic.”
In one Hamilton, Ontario secondary school, a bisexual grade ten girl was disciplined by the school vice-principal for an online comment to her GSA club that people can’t change sex. In her mother’s presence, he threatened her with the police if she repeated her belief and then removed her permanently from the GSA club.
In Renfrew, Ontario, Josh Alexander, sixteen, who stated his belief that “there were only two genders, and you were born either a male or a female” and that girls needed single-sex washrooms, was suspended for the school year from a Catholic school. Josh’s comments were made in class and not a GSA club but speak to the school climate.
A Revelstoke, BC high school is promoting a workshop for 14-year-olds on how to access transgender surgeries, advising, “As part of its Gender Junction Workshops series, Revelstoke Secondary School will hold a Zoom conference on Feb. 25 advertised to ‘gender diverse and gender-creative youth’.”
The workshop will cover a range of topics including “navigating coming out, transitioning and accessing gender affirming care, acquiring gender affirming gear, self advocacy and where to direct your parents, caregivers and teachers for support.” Does it strain credulity to think that the GSA club is uninvolved?
And, of course, to celebrate “women” on International Women’s Day, this tweet:
With almost six million students in Canadian schools, there will, of course, be broad differences in program delivery, including for the activities of GSA clubs. But students, if not yet “soldiers for the gender revolution,” as Chris Rufo has suggested, are steadily more political, activist and conformist in relation to the prevailing ideologies of Critical Race Theory and Gender Ideology. Parents should “educate themselves” by investigating their own children’s school activities carefully and by closely monitoring their school district’s political activities.
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