Challenging heteronormativity in suburban high schools through “surplus visibility”: Gay-Straight Alliances in the Vancouver city-region

Authors: Alison Bain*, York University, Julie A. Podmore, John Abbott College
Topics: Sexuality, Social Geography, Urban Geography
Keywords: Gay-Straight Alliances, LGBTQ+, youth, surplus visibility, suburbs, Canada
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: 8228, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper focuses on the spatialities and activisms of high school Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) on the peripheries of the Vancouver city-region in British Columbia, Canada. It argues that GSAs in secondary public schools play valuable social supporting and activist roles for LGBTQ2S youth as spaces of essential “surplus visibility” – a means of challenging invisibility through the generation of excessive presence. This argument is developed by answering two research questions. First, how do the socio-spatial practices of visibility in GSAs challenge the heteronormativity of suburban high schools? Second, how is surplus visibility employed around the micro-spaces of suburban high schools to acknowledge and articulate the lived experiences of sexual and gender minority students? Using empirical examples from two case study peripheral municipalities (Surrey and Burnaby) five dimensions of GSA actions are examined to illustrate how surplus visibility is produced through administration, participation, sociability, reconnaissance, and activism. The paper concludes by reflecting on the value of an excess of visibility in countering the heteronormativity of suburban public high schools, but cautions against the devolution of responsibility to individual students and teachers.

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