Two weeks ago, the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexuality Diversity organized our Second Annual Gender and Sexuality Alliance Forum, which ran from the 13th-17th May 2015 at Glendon College. This event brought 75 LGBTQ+ or Allied middle school and high school students from across Ontario, as well as 12 Youth Mentors, to Toronto for a week of intensive education about gender, sexual orientation, queer and trans history, diversity, anti-racism, mental and sexual health, allyship, and anti-oppression. The GSA Forum 2015 was a resounding success that equipped students with the skills they need to advocate for themselves as well as safer and more inclusive communities when they return home.
On the first day at the Forum, students were introduced to intersectional approaches to queer and trans history: European and North American queer history from the Second World War until present, pre-colonial history of gender and sexuality in indigenous societies of Turtle Island (colonially known as North America) and the islands colonially known as the Philippines, the history of trans women in LGBTQ+ movements, general history of human rights in Canada and Ontario, history of LGBTQ+ rights in schools, and the history of the Transgender Day of Remembrance.
For many of our students, even those that identify within the queer and trans community, this was their first or most comprehensive introduction to these histories. From Day 1 our programming proved its worth in filling in existing gaps within the history traditionally taught in schools.
The second day of the Forum centered around a field trip to the Church and Wellesley Village, where our students had a chance to hear from MPP Cheri DiNovo on prospective legislation that is relevant to the LGBTQ+ community and from Brendan Healy, Artistic Director of Buddies and Bad Times, on the importance of queer and trans-dedicated artistic spaces. They then had the opportunity to tour key community institutions and spaces: Buddies in Bad Times, Xtra, Barbara Hall Park and the AIDS Memorial, and the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives. In addition to this being a chance for our students to stretch their legs and enjoy the beautiful weather, it was a great experiential learning experience.
The remainder of the week was devoted to a series of workshops. Three to five workshops ran concurrently at any given time, which allowed participants to customize their learning experiences. Day 3 was themed around GSA 101 essentials, including active listening, conflict resolution, and campaigning for gender-neutral washrooms. Highlighting peer-to-peer learning, some of these workshops were run by alumni from last year’s GSA Forum! Day 3 was capped off with Allyship 101 and Anti-Oppression Training, followed by a Drag and Talent Show featuring the Yes-Men Drag King Collective alongside the drag and other talents of our very own participants!
The theme for Day 4 was ‘Identities and Experiences,’ designed to give students a taste of the intersectionalities of the queer and trans community. Workshops covered topics such as non-binary genders, the asexuality spectrum, gender decolonization and two-spirit identity, faith, biphobia, and disability justice. A collective drama activity under the guidance of Danny Dilallo and a healing share circle finished the evening.
Lastly, Day 5 was all about Sexual Health and STBBIs. Workshops offered to teach students about the basics of healthy relationships, sexual health leadership, HIV/AIDS, and how colonization impacts healthy sexuality. The final day concluded with a discussion with GSA teachers and planning for the upcoming 2015-2016 academic year, as well as a community resource fair. We packed a lot of learning, support, and building of connections into a short 5 day period! Thank-you to all the students who came with such dedication, good spirit, and commitment to learning, as well as all the adult allies who helped to smooth their path to success. We look forward to seeing many alumni, as well as new faces, at the GSA Forum 2016, which will run from May 11th-15th.