Toronto, ON, June 23, 2011 – A sense of celebration signalled the arrival of summer as Toronto District School Board (TDSB) Trustees gathered for the final Board meeting of the 2010-12 school year. Tonight’s meeting opened with the announcement of the first annual Director’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) Awards.
These awards were established to recognize and honour outstanding Gay-Straight Alliances in the Toronto District School Board. Each year, the $1,000 awards will be presented to three student-led GSAs that have demonstrated a committed effort to:
- Support queer, trans and questioning students and their allies
- Create safe inclusive spaces for discussion about issues relating to sexual identity, gender identity, and healthy relationships, and
- Educate and engage the school community in anti-homophobia and anti-transphobia activism
Opening the inaugural Director’s GSA Awards ceremony, Director of Education Chris Spence said, “While we recognize the responsibility we have in supporting the creation of safe, affirming and liberating schools for all students and staff, we also recognize the significant, unmatched and crucial impact provided by student leaders and peer educators.”
The three recipients were announced in random order. Chair of the Board Chris Bolton presented the Director’s GSA Award to the student members and staff advisor of the RH King Academy’s Gay-Straight Alliance.
“As a relatively new student group, this Gay-Straight Alliance has created a variety of forums for education, activism and support, including an LGBTQ speaker series, which featured community members in queer relationships who spoke about their personal experiences in overcoming hate and leading positive fulfilling lives,” said Bolton.
“One strategy this GSA used in challenging homophobic comments was to hold a school-wide contest for the most creative response to, “That’s so gay.” From field trips, to movie nights, to workshops and political activism, this GSA is making change primarily by supporting one another, and they have had an amazing impact,” added Chair Bolton.
Vice-Chair Cathy Dandy presented the next Director’s GSA Award to Lawrence Park Collegiate Institute’s Panther Pride Queer-Straight Alliance.
“This QSA began as a support group -- a safe space for LGBTQ, questioning and ally students to talk, socialize and watch films with positive LGBTQ content and themes. The group quickly grew and soon had registered 150 students in the school who pledged a vow of silence for a full day to bring attention to the silence faced by many queer and trans youth in the face of homophobia and transphobia,” said Dandy.
“Through support, inclusive political engagement and through authentic partnerships with other student groups, community groups and subject areas, this Queer-Straight Alliance is helping build a more positive and inclusive climate.”
Presenting the next Director’s GSA Award to Emery Collegiate Institute’s Gay-Straight Alliance was Chief Academic Officer Karen Gravitis.
“This diverse and inclusive Gay-Straight Alliance in its second year has worked tirelessly and courageously to create an atmosphere of acceptance in a school climate they described as dominated by homophobia,” said Gravitis.
“After two years, this vocal and visible GSA has gradually had an impact on the school climate and opened the minds of some students and some staff. The most noticeable change has been with the language used in classrooms and hallways. “No homo” is rarely heard and “That’s so gay” is almost always challenged when it’s said. Numerous classrooms are now identified as safe spaces and students who have been engaged by this GSA’s education work are now conscious of using gender-neutral language and not making assumptions about others’ identities.”
Recipients of this year’s outstanding Directors GSA Awards are:
- RH King Academy’s Gay-Straight Alliance
- Lawrence Park Collegiate Institute’s Panther Pride Queer-Straight Alliance
- Emery Collegiate Institute’s Gay-Straight Alliance