Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Everyone's accepted; everyone's a friend

Gay-straight alliances offer students place to socialize

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BEFORE he came out, Luke Storkey had a tough time hearing friends back home in the state of Washington make homophobic jokes.

"I remember one particular conversation that they had that was really disturbing to me, and I just had to get up and leave the table," Storkey recalled Wednesday.

So, when he moved with his family to Canada in 2010, he looked for a school that offered a more supportive community.

He found it at Kelvin High School. "We were the first high school in Winnipeg to have a GSA (gay-straight alliance) and I think that's great and that's actually part of why I came to Kelvin," he said.

Storkey is now co-leader of the club, along with fellow Grade 12 student Katherine Kellner.

Kellner said she joined Kelvin's GSA after seeing gay and lesbian friends and relatives get harassed. "I just wanted to make sure that I've got a safe environment at my school where I can live freely and so can my friends and family and whoever else," she said.

The GSA hosts weekly gatherings, as well as movie nights, where they discuss GLBTQ (gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer) issues.

Storkey said the GSA is a place to make friends. "It's like another world, because outside of the GSA people tend to be a lot less accepting. They tend to try to impress their peers by not accepting others. Within the GSA, by (not being bigoted) you're impressing your peers," he said.

Kellner said while there have been incidents of harassment at Kelvin, through the GSA, and with help from some of the school's teachers, those have been kept to a minimum.

Alicia Gandier, who heads the GSA at The Collegiate at the University of Winnipeg, said high school can be a difficult experience for GLBTQ students. Having a GSA, she said, can be helpful for those students who have questions.

"I know that in high school, this is where a lot of kids are figuring themselves out, and they don't necessarily know what they're feeling. They don't really know how to deal with it," Gandier said.

Gandier started a diversity club at her former school in Morden because she said her school didn't allow GSAs.

Despite that, the club became a place to discuss GLBTQ issues, she said.

Without his school's GSA, Storkey said he would have significantly fewer friends. "Until my friends (at the GSA) graduated, they were the ones I hung out with at lunch, and they were my closest friends at the school."

"It's a place for people to feel safe. Even if you can't get awareness out, at least you managed to find a group of like-minded people."

oliver.sachgau@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 28, 2013 A3

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