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Multi-case Study with Canadian Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs) Open Access


Other title
LGBTQ youth
Gay Straight Alliance
childhood theory
educational policy
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Herriot, Lindsay K.
Supervisor and department
Peck, Carla L. (Department of Elementary Education)
Examining committee member and department
Lund, Darren (Werkland School of Education, University of Calgary)
Shultz, Lynette (Department of Educational Policy Studies)
Ellis, Julia (Department of Elementary Education
Prochner, Larry (Department of Elementary Education)
Department of Educational Policy Studies
Theoretical, Cultural, and International Studies in Education
Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
School based gay straight alliances (GSAs) are primarily North American extra- curricular clubs that foster support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) and allied middle and secondary students. Founded and led by youth, they can also take on activist or educational roles, such as lobbying for LGBTQ-inclusive curricular materials (Micelei, 2005; GSA Network, 2011). The continuing emergence of GSAs has forced intense public discussions and much debated policymaking decisions on how schools engage and grapple with LGBTQ topics, and the spectrum of sexual and gender roles more broadly (Herriot, 2011; Short, 2013a). This is especially true in educational policy-making, where various jurisdictions have developed, debated, amended, revised, and resisted GSA affirming policies. Despite there being nearly 300 GSAs in Canadian schools (, little is currently known about how youth members and their teacher advisors perceive the diverse roles, purposes, and functions of GSAs are and can be. Beyond their immediate effects on members and their school communities, GSAs mark a new moment in contemporary theorizing about youth, as they disrupt the dominant notion of youth’s sexual subjectivity as naturally and universally asexual in practice and heterosexual in orientation (Bruhm & Hurley, 2004; Robinson, 2013). The purpose of this study was to understand the pragmatic workings and theoretical implications of GSAs primarily through working with club members themselves. Findings from the work with participants were situated within a larger policy narrative, which was conducted using an interpretive approach using policy documents relevant to the participating GSAs. Policies generally defined openly or suspected ii LGBTQ students’ safety as the policy problem, which GSAs would then resolve as designated safe spaces within the school. Although some participants viewed the GSAs’ primary purpose as a harm-reduction strategy in congruence with the policy documents, many others eschewed its being characterized as such, and resented its reputation as a “charity case.” In conjunction with recognizing its supportive functions, most participants emphasized diverse features of their GSA, such as its importance as a valued social space, or its filling an educational gap regarding LGBTQ content. Not only did participants from across sites experience the GSA differently, members of the same club had different reactions to what the club was, and why it was important. A significant policy revision pertaining to LGBTQ youth in Lower Mainland schools occurred during data collection. Youth participants’ engagement with the public consultation process in this policy revision was analyzed as both an extension of the policy narrative completed prior to data collection, and a close examination of how some GSA members engage in activism. The dissertation concludes with theory building related to how youth participants characterized the intersections of youthfulness, voice, citizenship, and diverse sexual and gender identities. This research informs theory, practice, and policy-making around how schools approach youth in general, and LGBTQ and allied youth in particular.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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