When I think back to my elementary school, the only element of gay expression for me was singing and dancing in the annual musical. I loved jumping into the makeup chair before a show, and stepping out transformed into a Cat or Greaser. There was a sense of freedom in portraying someone else. You could be more effeminate or masculine. You could explore your identity in the safety of saying you were ‘just acting’.
That being said, I think it is fair to say; my elementary school was not a Gender and Sexual Minority (GSM) friendly space. There were no messages of respect, visibility (books, stickers or posters), and the only times my teachers ever mentioned the GSM community was to ‘discourage’ it.
I will never forget how my science teacher tried to explain to us how lesbians got breast cancer because they did not bear children.
So you can imagine my surprise when I walked into Rockland Public School, just east of Ottawa, to find students in grade 4, 5 & 6 wearing t-shirts that said “Some kids are gay, get over it”. It was so surprising that I had to read it twice to make sure I was not mistaken.
And it was not about being trendy.
It all started a few years ago. A number of students inspired by the Day of Pink, recognized that a pink shirt would not stop bullying, so decided to come up with messages that they thought were important to share with each other. The student who suggested the “Some kids are gay, get over it” phrase, now in high school, said that he felt that people made homophobic jokes that were discriminatory. He felt bringing it out of the closet would demystify the issue and create a dialogue where all students could get honest and accurate information.
Since then, the elementary school and high school have seen a greater sense of inclusivity and respect. One student at the high school explained how she grew up with the t-shirts, ongoing messages & dialogues, and how she felt it was something everyone should know and talk about. She said that it made it easier for her to come out, knowing that students knew it was ok and that her teachers supported her.
For me this was particularly interesting to hear. At a recent Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario conference called: ETFO loves GSAs, I got to speak about how challenging homophobia and transphobia in elementary schools makes it easier for students in high schools.
Yesterday, JersVision.org volunteers had the pleasure to chat with every class at Rockland Public, and at Rockland District High. In those conversations we talked about some myths & stereotypes, how to promote inclusivity at school, and how to celebrate the great work going on.
We are looking forward to continue working with both schools and thank all the amazing staff and students for inviting our organization to be part of the incredible work you are doing.
Also, a special thanks to the grade 6’s of Rockland Public School! They raised $500 for JersVision.org and the Day of Pink. Their donation fund workshops for over 500 youth this school year. Some funds will also be kept aside to fund a field trip for students from both Rockland schools to come to the JersVision.org office and participate in a Dare to Stand Out: Diversity Field Trip, where they will participate in skill building workshops, go to the National Art Gallery, and meet community leaders and Members of Parliament to chat about diversity.
For more information or to book our free programs please go to JersVision.org. Also, the Day of Pink is coming up on April 9, 2014, join over 9 million people in wearing pink to stand up to bullying—more information here: DayOfPink.org. And don’t forget to check out PFLAGCanada.ca to find information about how you can get involved in your community.