Support groups for LGBTQ students in B.C. are moving online to provide vulnerable youth with more opportunities to connect during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The province says for the first time B.C.’s Gay-Straight or Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) meet-ups will take place online or over the phone, instead of in person.
GSAs are student clubs that can take place in B.C. elementary and secondary schools, and are meant to provide a safe social space for all students including those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, two-spirit, or otherwise non-binary.
“We know that LGBTQ2S+ kids report higher rates of feeling isolated and for some students, their school community was the only place where they could be their authentic selves,” said Rob Fleming, minister of education.
“That’s why now, more than ever, it’s so important for LGBTQ2S+ children and youth to stay connected and to know that they have safe, confidential outlets to virtually socialize with each other.”
Led by students or adult sponsors, GSA groups can engage in a wide variety of activities from socializing to spreading awareness about LGBTQ issues.
The province cites a study of B.C. students that found lower rates of suicidal thoughts in both gay and straight youth when a GSA group had been in a school for three or more years.
Groups have faced challenges getting the word out about the now virtual meet-ups as teacher sponsors may not have all group members in their classes, and students may also use preferred names.
“We want to encourage students to reach out to their teacher or a trusted person at their school to find out ways they can join virtual GSA meet-ups, or even create a new GSA,” said Brad Beattie, executive director of ARC Foundation, a charitable organization working on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) programs in B.C. schools.