What is a GSA/QSA?

GSA* is a general acronym used for any student-run and teacher-supported school-based club that works to create welcoming, caring, respectful and safe spaces for students of diverse genders and sexual orientations (LGBTQ2S+) and their allies in schools. Essentially, GSAs are designed to provide a safe space that respects diversity and fosters a sense of belonging. The purpose of a GSA is for students to meet, do fun activities, socialize and support one another in a way that is inclusive of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities, gender expressions, and many other interests.

*GSA began as an acronym meaning “Gay-Straight-Alliance” but now GSA is meant to encompass many club names such as Queer-Straight-Allliance (QSA), Gender & Sexual Orientation Alliance, Pride Clubs, Rainbow Alliances, and many others.

Importantly, GSAs/QSAs are a confidential space in which no assumptions are made about anyone’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Some members of a GSA may be sexual and gender minority students or teachers, while others may have sexual and gender minority friends or family and want to become supportive allies. As a result, assumptions about a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity (whether the person is perceived as heterosexual, bisexual, gay, lesbian, or trans) should never be made. Parental consent or notification is not required to participate in a GSA or QSA. In fact, “outing” students can place them at great risk. (For more information, see: GSAs and QSAs in Alberta Schools: A guide for teachers, Alberta Teachers’ Association)

The first known GSAs were created in 1989 in the United States. GSAs have since evolved and many are now known as Queer-Straight Alliances (QSAs) or have more inclusive names such as “Gender & Sexual-Orientation Alliance”. There are many different names for GSAs, such as “Rainbow Club”, “Spectrum”, “Prism”, “Pride Club” etc. It’s important to note that in Alberta, every student has the legal right to request that a GSA be created in their school, regardless of school location, religious affiliation, linguistic or cultural composition of the school. Student’s also have the legal right to name their group a GSA or QSA. A school cannot force any student to use a different name, unless the GSA decides they want to call it something different on their own. 

Did you know? The first GSA in Alberta started in the late 1990’s at Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School in Red Deer.

Read the full article by Darren Lund on page 5 in the Diversity, Equity and Human Rights (DEHR) Committee Just In Time newsletter, Volume 11, Issue 1, 2016.