The first ever rural Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) Summit was held in Strathmore at the civic centre on October 11. The event brought hundreds of students, staff and dignitaries from across Alberta to the summit which featured a number of speakers and a resource fair.
“This is a transformative day for not just Strathmore, but also our province,” said guest speaker Gregory John. “Just by looking at the amount of students, we have we’ve had to setup more tables. There’ s a thirst for this and I am beyond ecstatic on what we’ve been able to accomplish here. It’s pretty amazing,” he said.
“GSAs have been a part of Strathmore High School for a few years, but they seem to start and then fizzle out and start and fizzle out. Last year in February we were approached by a couple students who really wanted to start one,” said Strathmore High School’s Julie Wallace.
“Today is huge. We are really proud that everything that has happened, and that we have all of these small-town students from all over Alberta joining us,” said Wallace. “It’s a big moment for us. It’s the first rural GSA summit ever to happen outside of a city,” she said.
In terms of the importance of having the option of a GSA in Strathmore, Wallace said, “I think the most important thing is it gives the students a safe space, a place to belong and a group of friends that they may not have otherwise have met. Now they are a cohesive unit. They are supportive and they are happy to hangout with each other every day,” she said.
There were over 200 students, staff and dignitaries in attendance for the summit.
Dignitaries included Alberta Minister of Health Sarah Hoffman, Chestermere-RockyView MLA and UCP Deputy Leader Leela Aheer, Siksika Nation’s Clarence Wolfleg, Mayor Pat Fule and councillor Bob Sobol and others.
There were also speeches from Principal Kyle Larsen, and keynote speakers Mike Morrison and Gregory John.
Minister Hoffman spoke about her own formative years growing up in northern Alberta.
Hoffman explained that she grew up in rural Alberta and at a time where there were no GSAs.
She spoke about the importance of anonymity of GSAs and the worry of some students of being outed to their friends and family after attending such conferences and meetings.
“We are doing better now,” she said.
“Everyone should be able to talk about what they did on the weekend, or who they spent time with,” she said.
“I really hope that we can continue to make a more loving and inclusive society,” she said.
She explained that SHS fundraised about $40,000 to host the summit, and later presented the GSA with an additional $24,710 from the Province of Alberta.
Guest speaker John also recounted his time as a student at Strathmore High School.
“Listen to the positives,” said John to the students. “Everybody doesn’t really fit in,” he said.
“Never forget where you come from,” he also counselled.