As Jordan Joseph listened to a pair of fellow students talk about taking the tools they learned during the Provincial High School Gay Straight Alliance Conference back to their schools, he couldn’t help but smile.
The Corner Brook Regional High Level 3 student was part of a group of students who envisioned this first conference of its kind in Newfoundland and Labrador.
As about 125 students and educators from throughout the province gathered at the city high school Friday and Saturday, the advancement of inclusive goals for every student — regardless of sexual preference — was being realized.
“It’s going really well, so we are feeling great,” Joseph said Saturday.
The Corner Brook student said it is all about inspiring others to better their respective schools and communities.
“If they want to, they can do the same things,” he said. “This is the first conference, but we want there to be more.”
William Chubbs is part of the Safe Haven human rights organization at Elwood High School in Deer Lake. He was one of a number of Elwood students looking for new ideas to take back to their school.
Chubbs says his school has gotten more inclusive in recent years. During anti-violence day, he said they had a display on sexual orientation.
“It actually went over really well,” he said.
He is not naive enough to think all is great however. He said there are still students who are not nice to students of a different sexual orientation. There are instances of bullying happening, said the Grade 11 student.
“I have seen that over the past few years,” he said. “We are aiming to get rid of all that bullying and try to show people there are different people with different identities. We must try to educate them as best we can.”
Meanwhile, Rebecca Blake, a Grade 9 student at Belanger Memorial in Codroy Valley, said her school’s Gay Straight Alliance attempts to target homophobia, heterophobia, transphobia and biphobia. After a couple of years in existence at her small school, she said it is an accepted organization among her peers — with some exceptions.
“We are trying to educate more people,” she said. “It is not that they don’t like it, it is more they are not educated on it.”
Blake said she is hoping to gain more knowledge to pass along to her schoolmates. She said being a small town school brings its advantages and disadvantages.
“If we can educate people young, because it is such a tight-knit community, they will be able to bring that onto their families,” she said. “Eventually it will be a butterfly effect and everybody will be more understanding and accepting.”
Music to the ears
Those words are music to the ears of Susan Rose, president of the board of Egale (Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere), Canada Human Rights Trust.
The former graduate of Herdman Collegiate is so impressed by the changes within the walls of her former high school.
“Believe me, it wasn’t possible to be out,” she said. “It was a horrible time at that time, because you were so far in the closet you were drying up and dying.
“When I see this type of event, this is saving lives.”
However, despite these changes, there is a long way to go to becoming an inclusive population — within and outside of the school community, she said.
A national student body survey determined schools in this country are not safe and not inclusive, and that K-12 curriculum excluded the LGBTQ community. She said students are asking for that to change.
“We have a whole group of people involved in, not bullying, violence,” Rose said. “When you have people being called names everyday, things being thrown at them and teachers ignoring this behaviour ... everybody loses. It’s a horrible message to the school and community.”
The training of educators has begun, so they can better understand and therefore help. She said Newfoundland and Labrador is a national leader on this front, participating in workshops and training.