Saskatchewan

Virtual Gay-Straight Alliance founded to help Sask. rural LGBTQ youth connect

Gay-Straight Alliance meetings were put on pause when the pandemic closed schools in Saskatchewan.

GSA founded by and for Prairie Valley School Division students, but can expand

Taylor Hennessey is one of the students behind a virtual GSA from the Prairie Valley School Division. (Submitted by Taylor Hennessey)

Taylor Hennessey says that when the pandemic closed schools, one of the valuable things it took away was a support network for LGBTQ students. 

"Some kids, they don't have that safe space to go home and be themselves and express themselves and be able to be who they truly are," Hennessey said. "It's not safe for them." 

Hennessey, who identifies as a gay non-binary person and goes by the pronouns they and them, is one of the people behind a virtual Gay-Straight Alliance [GSA]. They said they want youth to know they're supported and have a place to turn.

The Prairie Valley School Division is composed of several schools outside of Regina. (Submitted by Kyla Christiansen)

Hennessy said that when they were in Grade 9, there wasn't a GSA at Lumsden High School, where they were a student, so they took it upon themself to make one.

"It's been a journey to say the least," Hennessey said. "We've come a long way."

Now in Grade 12, Hennessey is one of the senior students in the GSA.

"Throughout the years, it's definitely gotten a lot better, exponentially better. Like I can leave the school now as a graduate and feel like I've left a better place for kids like me," Hennessey said. 

The provincial government closed schools effective March 20, 2020. Hennessey said not having their peers around is difficult.

"It's been hard," Hennessey said. "I miss my people and what I have been hearing from others is they also are so desperate for that connection."

Kyla Christiansen is the health and wellness co-ordinator for the Prairie Valley School Division. (Submitted by Kyla Christiansen)

Kyla Christiansen is trying to navigate similar difficulties while working from home. Christiansen is the health and wellness consultant for the Prairie Valley School Division. 

"I worry about all of our students ... but especially our students who we know are in vulnerable circumstances, whether it's at home or in their communities," she said. 

"We knew it was important that we continued to create these safe places for kids when the pandemic was going on."

Nothing warms my heart like having young people come out and just express themselves, be who they are.- Taylor Hennessey

The idea of a virtual GSA came up during a teacher-student group video chat. Hennessey said they were concerned at first about trolls somehow getting onto the platform and ruining the experience, but that the positives far outweigh the potential negatives.

"Having that space to even just talk and laugh … completely outweighs the bad," Hennessey said. "Nothing warms my heart like having young people come out and just express themselves, be who they are."

Taylor Hennessey is one of the students working to set up a virtual GSA. Hennessey said some students don't have a safe space at their home during self-isolation. (Submitted by Taylor Hennessey)

Hennessy said being online could also help more people come forward and be themselves, because there is a level of safety when people are behind a screen. 

The virtual GSA is set to launch on May 13, 2020. Hennessey said it's mainly for people in the Prairie Valley School Division, but they are understanding if students in Regina would like to join since both cities have relatively small GSA populations. They plan to run the meetings until people no longer have to self-isolate. 

Christiansen said the virtual GSA will be monitored by select adults and they may expand depending on those interested. She said the meetings take away her worries about if they are doing OK.

"Just to see the students — just see them smiling and so relaxed when they're talking with each other."

About the Author

Heidi Atter

AP/Journalist

Heidi Atter is a journalist working in Regina. She started with CBC Saskatchewan after a successful internship and has a passion for character-driven stories. Heidi has worked as a reporter, web writer, associate producer and show director so far, and has worked in Edmonton, at the Wainwright military base, and in Adazi, Latvia. Story ideas? Email heidi.atter@cbc.ca.

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