Lily Overacker, left, and Laurell Pallot are shown in this undated handout photo. Overacker and Pallot start each gay-straight alliance meeting with everyone introducing themselves, saying their pronouns and sharing highs and lows of the week. Except lately it’s been through email chains instead of in-person for the Grade 12 students in Lacombe, Alta. Such clubs are meant to provide safe spaces for LGBTQ students and their allies. Students, teachers and community groups are working to ensure that support is still available as the COVID-19 pandemic keeps kids out of school. (Lily Overacker/Contributed)

‘More vital now:’ Gay-straight alliances go virtual during COVID-19 pandemic

‘We all just want to be in a place where we see ourselves reflected and supported’

Lily Overacker and Laurell Pallot start each gay-straight alliance meeting with everyone introducing themselves, saying their pronouns and sharing highs and lows of the week.

Except lately it’s been through email chains instead of in-person for the Grade 12 students in Lacombe, Alta.

Such school clubs are meant to provide safe spaces for LGBTQ students and their allies. Students, teachers and community groups are working to ensure that support is still available as the COVID-19 pandemic keeps kids out of school.

“It’s definitely harder because you want to be able to see those people and be around them,” said Overacker, 18.

“But I think we are making the best out of the situation that we can and focusing on making sure that kids still know that there’s people there to support them.”

Overacker and Pallot want to hold a virtual end-of-year celebration for LGBTQ students.

“We’re thinking it’ll be over Zoom and we want it to be Alberta-wide,” said Pallot, 17.

She said community groups could host multiple Zoom sessions simultaneously.

“We’ll have a Zoom room with a DJ and dancing and games and just multiple different ones that kids can choose.”

Pallot said the virtual prom is a way of “finding light in this situation,” with the bonus of meeting new people before she goes away to college in the fall.

Hilary Mutch, who co-ordinates a GSA network in southern Alberta through the Centre for Sexuality, said isolation is one of the biggest issues for LGBTQ youth at the best of times.

ALSO READ: Summer events, parades, large weddings off the table this summer: Henry

“As much as possible, it’s so important to think ‘what are the things that we’re doing to combat those feelings of isolation, lack of resources, lack of supports that people might be feeling at home, especially if their home isn’t affirming or respectful of their identity?’”

School divisions have approached holding GSAs during the shutdown in different ways, whether it’s through email, group chats, video conferencing or social media.

The Arc Foundation, which runs a program called SOGI 123 to make schools more inclusive, recently held a webinar to help educators run virtual GSAs.

Scout Gray, SOGI 123’s leader, said 140 people signed up — mostly in British Columbia, but some in Alberta.

“Teachers are stretched real thin right now and they’re taking the time to make sure these clubs are getting running, which shows that they’re really dedicated and shows that there’s a need.”

Gray added it’s important to coach youth on privacy. For instance, if teens don’t want everyone to know they’re part of a GSA, they would need to think about whether having their face shown in a video chat window beamed into someone else’s home is a good idea.

“We want to make sure that … they understand that things they put out on the internet could be recorded, could be used in other places,” Gray said.

If youth don’t want their families knowing, they could participate by phone during a walk around the neighbourhood so no one overhears, Gray added.

Mav Gilchrist, a 17-year-old Grade 12 student in St. Albert, Alta., has noticed some students choose their words carefully or mute their mics during their GSA’s Google Meet chats.

Gilchrist said efforts have been made to ensure names appearing in video chat windows reflect trans students’ true gender identities, which isn’t always the case when accounts are linked to school-issued email addresses.

Gilchrist said not as many students have been participating as usual — possibly because of scheduling or unsupportive households.

But Gilchrist said it’s crucial the club keep going in some form.

“More people are experiencing negativity within their unsupportive households because they’re there constantly,” Gilchrist said. “The support that GSAs provide was vital before — it is even more vital now.”

Renee LeClerc, a teacher supervisor for Gilchrist’s GSA at Paul Kane High School, said students use the time to talk about whatever they want — whether that be baking, TV shows or anime.

“We are very rarely focused on LGBTQ-specific issues for an entire meeting. It is almost always just things that teenagers talk about,” she said.

“We all just want to be in a place where we see ourselves reflected and supported.”

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

New book details 1893 murder in Abbotsford and 2 trials that followed

Farmer John Marshall was found dead on his Sumas Prairie property

Abbotsford Police Department’s public service counter reopens

Some modified protocols in place for the public due to COVID-19

VIDEO: Abbotsford Time Lapse 2020

YouTube user posts video showing time lapse of several Abbotsford locations

Abbotsford resident receives award from B.C. Historical Federation

Bill Glasgow honoured for work on British Columbia History magazine

VIDEO: #FreeThemAll group protests for prisoner rights in Abbotsford

About 20 participate in car demonstration outside of Matsqui Institution on Sunday

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

New platform allows readers to make a one-time or ongoing donation to support local journalism

Kelowna man charged with harming a hamster

The 20-year-old Kelowna man faces several animal cruelty charges

High tech fish transport system set up to ‘whoosh’ salmon past Big Bar landslide

Fish will spend roughly 20 seconds inside the system, moving at roughly 20 metres per second

Trudeau to seek 10 days of paid sick leave for Canadian workers, says talks are ongoing

Paid sick leave is key to keeping COVID-19 spread under control, prime minister says

Snowbirds jets will not be leaving Kamloops, just yet

The Snowbirds have been in Kamloops since May 17 when a plane crashed killing Capt. Jennifer Casey

COVID-19 checkpoints ‘up to them,’ Bonnie Henry says of remote B.C. villages

Support local tourism economy, but only if you’re invited in

Vancouver Island hasn’t seen a new homegrown case of COVID-19 in two weeks

Island’s low and steady transmission rate chalked up to several factors

Eight people arrested in Victoria homeless camp after enforcement order issued

Those living in tents were given until May 20 to move indoors

Most Read