Highlights from the Sesquicentennial Leaders of Today Forums!

Hey there! Amanda here and I’m super excited to share some details about some of the projects I’ve been working this year. As we begin the planning for the 2018-2019 school year, it is always nice to reflect on the programs that took place over the previous year.

It was exactly, one year ago that I joined the CCGSD as the National and GSA Leadership Forum Coordinator to organize the Sesquicentennial Leaders of Today Forum which took place in each province across Canada. It was such an honour to be able to bring this important event to capital cities across the country and engage with people and organizations in each location who are striving to ensure that their communities are safe and inclusive for all.

The Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity`s Sesquicentennial Leaders of Today Youth Forums brought youth together to hear from local politicians, activists, community organizers, and artists who engaged them in discussions about reconciliation, diversity, creating a legacy, civic engagement, LGBTQ2S+ issues and anti-bullying. Each presentation was designed to encourage youth to take action and inspire them to be leaders in their own communities, alongside providing relevant background knowledge. Following these presentations, students took a tour of their provincial legislative assemblies.

Most youth have never been to their legislature and wanted to change that by bringing youth participants from coast to coast into these critical places of power to open the doors to our democracy by starting new dialogues on important social justice issues.

While each event was unique, there were definitely some highlights worthy of further reflection and inspiration.

Exploring Contemporary LGBTQ2+ issues in Edmonton, Alberta

Our Edmonton, Alberta event happened just one week after a bill passed that would support students who take part in GSA clubs in school. Students were given the chance to interact with David Shepherd and Trevor Horne, two NDP politicians who fought to pass this bill which is still being discussed in the province today.

Students gather around a fountain during a tour at the Legislative Assembly of Alberta.

Sitting in the seats of MLAs in Charlottetown, PEI

In late October, we held the Leaders of Today Forum in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. This event was particularly inspirational for youth as instead of simply taking a tour of the legislature, students who attended the event were given the opportunity to sit in the seats of the Members of the Legislative Assembly inside the chamber for the presentation. As per usual proceedings, the Speaker of the House addressed the group at the beginning of the presentation. Following a land acknowledgment and a song by Mi’kmaq Abegweit First Nation filmmaker Eliza Knockwood, students had the opportunity to hear from MLAs from the Provincial Liberal and Green Party. They were also able to hear from the organization PEERS Alliance who provide education and support on issues related to sexual health including running a group for LGBTQ2+ identified youth. Each presenter shared their story of becoming community leaders. Perhaps in a few years, we will see one of these students sitting in these very same seats as an elected official.

Speaker and filmmaker Eliza Knockwood shares a song about her family’s experience of discrimination and colonization with students in the Chamber of the Prince Edward Island Legislative Assembly.

Performance by Juno nominated artist in St. John’s, Newfoundland

Over 40 youth, from 3 different schools attend the Leaders of Today event in St. John’s, Newfoundland. One of the groups from a school arranged to arrive at the forum in a limo which was paid in part by their school. Students engaged with guests from the St. John’s Native Friendship Centre, St. John’s Pride Festival, LGBTQ2+ activists and local politicians.

 

Gerry Rogers who has since become the Leader of the Newfoundland and Labrador NDP discussed being the first openly gay MHA in Newfoundland. “I’m here, I’m queer, get used to it”, she announced proudly at the start of her address to students. Students were treated to a final surprise with a performance from Juno nominated, singer and songwriter Kellie Loder.

Juno nominated singer and songwriter, Kellie Loder closes the presentation with a performance an event St. John’s, Newfoundland.

While there were extraordinary moments at each event, these were just a few stand out memories we wanted to share! I am truly grateful for the opportunity to have been able to facilitate these events where students were given the opportunity to engage with some very inspiring community leaders and broaden their understaning of social justice principles. It was clear that students left these events feeling motivated to be leaders in their own schools and communities and to continue these important discussions about diversity and inclusion. We can’t wait to return to some of these communities to provide youth with the tools they need to create their own legacy for lasting change and to continue these crucial conversations.

A very special thank you to all the indigenous elders, politicians, community organizers, activist, and students who shared their stories and the very important work they are doing. Also, a huge thank you to the wonderful students who participated in these forums across the county. Finally, a very special thank you to all the educators who recognize the importance of bringing students to these events we truly could not continue to do the work we do without your support.