GISA program and contest: Young people taking action against bullying

"At Cégep, I heard a lot of comments about LGBTQ individuals. And nearly everyone in that community I met told me they'd been victims or had heard homophobic, transphobic or biphobic remarks." And that's why Julien Guévremont took the lead role in producing a video that exposes certain realities the LGBTQ community faces at school.

This Collège Saint-Jean-Vianney production is one of 5 winning videos in the hugely successful first edition of the Take action against bullying contest.

Across Quebec, young people aged 12 to 18 helped produce a script that deals with bullying of LGBTQ+ youth. A jury chose 5 of the 20 or so scripts submitted.

Watch the 5 winning videos. - External link. This link will open in a new window.

"When we talk about bullying, we often look at it from an adult perspective, but young people actually know better than anyone what it's like. They're the ones with first-hand experience, and can convey this message," says Pascal Vaillancourt, the executive director of Interligne, formerly known as Gai écoute. "The strength of the program and contest comes from young people sharing similar experiences."

GISA: moving forward

The contest is part of the GISA (gender, identity and sexuality alliances) program, which offers a number of tools and support to create secure, inclusive spaces in schools, Cégeps and youth centres.

Anyone who wants to create a GISA in their school or youth centre can simply register free of charge. - External link. This link will open in a new window. The Interligne team will help them with the process. They can also download a free starter kit - External link. This link will open in a new window., which contains: 

  • A GISA guide (purpose of a GISA and how it works, and 8 steps to creating one)
  • An activity booklet, with tips, examples of fundraisers and advice on organizing events
  • Online catalogue of workshops on topics like workshop management, leadership and facilitation techniques

Vaillancourt points out that GISAs are started "for and by young people," to create "spaces where they feel comfortable and don't have to worry about being bullied."

How are things these days?

It's easy to believe that these problems don't exist anymore;  however, many studies show that there's a lot of work that still needs to be done to eliminate biases, stereotypes and bullying reflexes and behaviours. The 2011 edition (the most recent) of L'enquête québécoise sur la santé des jeunes du secondaire (Quebec study on the health of high school students) found that more than one-third of high school students had faced some form of bullying: 

  • 42% of boys had been bullied at school or on the way to school.
  • 29% of girls had experienced the same situation.

Vaillancourt says that even though young people are more open, many social norms persist, related to such things as vocabulary.

The same year, Egale conducted a survey on homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in Canadian schools. The final report, Every class in every school, indicated that: 

  • 64% of LGBTQ students and 61% of students with LGBTQ parents did not feel safe at school.
  • 70% of students who participated in the study said they often heard expressions like, "That's so gay."
  • Nearly 10% heard teachers make homophobic comments on a daily or weekly basis.

Vaillancourt also says that young people need role models, especially in their teachers. "Many teachers, though, perhaps for fear of reprisals, hesitate to identify as gay or lesbian, but having role models teenagers can identify with is crucial," says this former teacher.

Here are some of the direct benefits he cites: 

  • Better marks
  • Lower chance of dropping out
  • A healthier environment
  • More positive identity development
  • Stronger relationships

The GISA program is presented by Desjardins, a partner of the Interligne youth service. Julien Guévremont has experienced tangible benefits from using the service. "I found support there, besides getting a better understanding of my Cégep's student policy. Also, how to discuss the needs of the LGBTQIA2+ community, demystify certain myths with students and how to plan and manage activities and funding. We also learned to run advertising campaigns and make requests to administrators and nursing."

Formerly known as Gai écoute, Interligne takes over 26,000 calls a year - including by online chat and text messaging. Desjardins is pursuing its mission to make a difference in the community, and is committed to diversity, inclusion and openness.

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