GSA, school environment/climate, positive space, teacher allies, gender neutral washroom, student advocacy, continuity
Dale: I’m in grade 12 now, and I did the first interview when I was in grade 9, so that would have been 3 years ago, so I would have been 14 at the time.
Tara: Great! And since that time, how has your experience at your school been?
Dale: It’s been really positive at Parkdale. I’ve joined the GSA: the Gender Sexuality Alliance, and we have been working towards training workshops and bringing in speakers. The last two weeks we’ve been showing a movie on the topic of The Danish Girl, which is about the first transsexual girl, or one of the fist transsexual women and women rights. So it’s been good creating a new environment in our school, and we’ve been able to increase our group from about 5-10 people to nearly 20-25 students every week.
Tara: Fantastic. Was there something in particular that kind of provoked you to begin the group? Or as you spent more time at Parkdale you felt you were ready?
Dale: Yeah, I felt overtime I noticed that it was very small, it was usually, there were times when there would be multiple teachers and only one student and the teachers would outnumber the students. Slowly as I became more involved with the school, and the student council, having to do things for the school, I joined the group because I thought well, it needs more people to represent in it. And I’ve never always believed that we needed something at the school, but you also can’t have nothing at our school. And that’s one of my biggest motivations is that I don’t want there to not be a Gender Sexuality Alliance at our school, I want there to be at least a placeholder for the need, whether or not our school is homophobic or rude. In a place where it needs help, but at least a positive space and a net positive outcome on our school is always needed.
Tara: Right. So how many people come regularly to the group now?
Dale: At least 25 students I think, a week. And that’s a lot of grade 9’s this year have started to join, and a lot more of the middle grades, who I don’t think were comfortable before, seeing how big it was. And once again, feeling as though they need to do something for our school, have started to show up.
Tara: Fantastic! And have you noticed a change in school culture at all? As a result of the GSA?
Dale: Not entirely, but there wasn’t ever a negative school environment in the first place. And I think that’s what was very positive about Parkdale in the first place, and one of the reasons I questioned ever going in the first place is because there wasn’t anything that I felt needed to be fixed entirely. If nothing’s broke, don’t fix it. It wasn’t as though the school was in dire straights when it came to equal rights, but it is good to have anything.
Tara: And what would you think the folks who come every week, why do you think they come?
Dale: Part of the reason is a lot of students want a place to hang out for lunch. No one wants to hang out in our cafeteria. So going to some club here or there, having some positive space, and having a chance to discuss – we have a great teacher leading it. So sometimes it’s not always about gay rights or trans rights, it’s sometimes we’re just talking about politics or something completely unrelated like our school or something like that. But it still gives a positive space for us to all go to, and a space where we have a teacher who can talk to us as a person.
Tara: Sounds fantastic. So what’s in store for your GSA, for your Gender Sexuality Alliance in the next little while?
Dale: We’re gonna be creating, we’re gonna try to create a board, one of our cork boards at our school, we’re going to be filling those with posters, we might be trying right now to get a gender-neutral washroom. We have a single stall right now but it’s in the works that we’re going to try to get a multi-stall gender-neutral washroom. So that’s our biggest goal right now. I’m not sure how achievable it is with the size of our school, but it is something that I think our school can accept and work with. It’s just finding the actual real estate to do it in is our biggest problem I think.
Tara: Right. And as you’re getting ready to leave Parkdale, what are your hopes for the GSA?
Dale: That it stays big like it is right now. And that’s the thing that I’ve always had trouble with clubs at our school. It’s usually always one grade and all their friends, and that’s it! And they’ll go through 9 through 12 and it’ll be big during those years, and the moment that grade leaves, it’ll all just fall apart. I noticed that with a debate club I was a part of. And all the students then graduated the next year and it didn’t start up again. We are a small school, so you need to have at least 10 students from nearly every grade in order to keep it going, and right now I see that with how many grade 9’s we have showing up, that it will be a strong club for years to come. And that it can continue to grow and stay stable and strong.