Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs) are youth-led groups, typically in school settings, focused on creating safe spaces for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and two-spirit (LGBTQ2S+) students and their allies. The GSA umbrella includes Queer Straight Alliances, Pride Clubs, Rainbow Alliances, and numerous other LGBTQ2S+ focused youth groups. Aimed at providing welcoming, inclusive opportunities to socialize and learn to support one another, GSAs represent a haven for LGBTQ2S+ students and their allies where no assumptions or projections are made regarding an individual’s sexuality or gender identity. The first GSA in Alberta began as a sub-committee of a student group focused on addressing discrimination at Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School in Red Deer in the late 1990s, the second, a standalone group at Lethbridge Collegiate Institute in 2003; in the following years groups formed in both public and private high schools, and more recently middle schools, across the province and launched the creation of community-based groups for youth without access to a GSA at their schools. While considerable attention has been paid to connecting these groups with each other, and the rise of the internet and advent of social media has in some cases facilitated biographies of sort, there is to date no comprehensive historical record of GSAs in Alberta. This project aims to create such a record, with particular focus on the voices of participants and facilitators, by capturing the oral histories of those involved in Alberta GSAs from the first formal, organized, standalone groups in the early 2000s to the present day.
Oral historian Alessandro Portelli emphasizes the importance of oral history sources, particularly in the production of the records of marginalized social groups. Portelli (1981) further suggests this methodology provides an effective framework for recording collective histories, with attention on shared experience as a source for establishing narrative voices across time and space. Murphy, Pierce, and Ruiz (2016) expand on Portelli’s germinal work, positing the intersections of oral history, queer theory, and LGBTQ history creates a queer methodology that is uniquely positioned to capture the often ephemeral experiences of gender and sexual minorities. Further, Boyd & Ramírez (2012) state “queer oral history cannot afford to ask questions solely about the past and its narration but also about how public memories in the present continue to have a politically implicated life in the future” (pg. 13); in this sense, we aim not only to collate the oral histories of GSA participants, but to reflect upon and project an elucidation of the impact these groups have upon dynamic queer identities in Alberta.
Drawing upon these realizations of oral history and queer methodology, this project will explore the following themes:
- The establishment of GSAs across Alberta
- The focus of groups across their history and in relation to other GSAs
- The importance of GSAs to participants
- Positive and negative aspects, effects, and experiences of the groups, both at present and as shared by past participants and facilitators
- Important elements and ideas as identified by participants and facilitators
The project will include interviews with past and present GSA participants and facilitators across Alberta, with focus on oral history methodology as influenced and shaped through queer theory into a queer oral history approach (Boyd, 2008; Boyd & Ramírez, 2012; Murphy et al., 2016).