Written by Anastasia Hangemanole, Family Services Educational Coordinator with SelfDesign® Learning Community

SelfDesign® Family Services strives to be “a steward of compassion and understanding within the SelfDesign community offering support to learners, families, Learning Consultants, mentors and contractors.” Given this, we are excited to be working with a group of keen grade 10–12 learners to launch SelfDesign’s own Gender Sexual Orientation Alliance (GSA).

The alliance, led by the learners, with me providing support as teacher–sponsor, is one of the SOGI 123 (Sexual Orientation Gender Identity) initiatives SelfDesign Family Services has undertaken in recent years to support youth who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, two-spirit, or other, or who might be exploring their gender identity and sexual orientation. The SOGI 123 program is designed by the ARC Foundation and Ministry of Education [linkto: https://www.arcfoundation.ca/about] to support schools in British Columbia to offer educational programs topics around sexual orientation and gender identity. The BC Ministry of Education requires all BC schools to implement SOGI programming, and at SelfDesign, our inclusive approach to community and learning facilitates this.

“At SelfDesign, one of our main tenets is acknowledgement and respect for others’ identity, whether that be in the realm of gender identity, sexual orientation, race, religion, and any other facet of ourselves,” says Family Services Team Lead Clarissa Tufts, who has been developing SOGI 123 initiatives at SelfDesign for several years. ”Establishing a GSA in our online learning community has been part of the overall goal of growing a culture of safety, acceptance and respect in our school. Co-creating a space for learners to contribute to building and modelling the values of our learning community feels timely, valuable and important.”

Ayalla, a grade 12 learner, is one of the GSA Leadership learners who proposed the GSA. I asked this enthusiastic learner what motivated them to be part of starting a GSA at SelfDesign. Ayalla says: “I really wanted to create a way for LGBTQ2+ learners to connect within SelfDesign. The world isn’t always an easy place to live in as an LGBTQ2+ person, and making those connections with people who have similar experiences is really important.”

With October being LGBT History Month, we saw an opportunity to mark this important time in the LGBTQ2S+ movement with SelfDesign’s GSA launch. We’re honouring significant moments in LGBT history by celebrating young people who will continue to carry the torch for the empowerment of the LGBTQ2S+ community.

“It’s important to know our shared history, and for allies to know it as well,” Ayalla says. “The people who came before us and fought for our rights, those people are the beating heart of our community. They deserve to be remembered and we can learn a lot from them.”

Many schools across Canada have started GSAs in recent years, and SelfDesign benefits from this amazing work as we begin and grow our own GSA. Of course, we approached the initiative through the lens of our unique online learning community.

“The SelfDesign Learning Foundation holds strong shared values around lifelong learning in relationships,” says Vice Principal Catherine Dinim. “We embrace heart-centred and co-inspirational relationships based on acceptance, respect, and support of one another and we use conversation, collaboration and co-creation, with curiosity as our lifelong pathway to transformative experiences. Creating the opportunity for our LBGTQ2S+ learners and allies to gather together via the GSA to share their experiences, form collaborative relationships, and to inspire each other and the larger SelfDesign community is really important.”

Our GSA’s first goal is to create a safe space for SelfDesign LGBTQ2S+ learners and their allies to connect with each other. So far the response from learners in the GSA Discussion Forum has been very positive. It’s clear that learners are eager to engage.

Next steps include creating more opportunities and spaces to build relationships and community and exploring the other areas that GSAs focus on – support and activism. We’d like to bring in guest speakers, host monthly gatherings and encourage a robust discussion space. We’ve also set up a GSA Workspace, where learners can submit original artwork, writing, vlogs, and other offerings connected to SOGI topics.

“I really hope the GSA provides a safe space for learners who don’t have one in their lives, a social space for learners who need connection in our community, and an educational place for learners who maybe haven’t been connected to our culture,” Ayalla says. “Ultimately, I want the GSA to be whatever the LGBTQ+ learners at Self Design need it to be.”

Read more about SOGI activities at SelfDesign

Read more about SelfDesign Family Services

Anastasia Hangemanole, B.A., B.Ed., is a Family Services Educational Coordinator and the teacher–sponsor for SelfDesign’s GSA. Having been with SelfDesign for 12 years – 2 years as an Educational Coordinator – she says she loves the varied experiences of her role and the opportunities to connect with SelfDesign learners, parents and caregivers, and other contractors.