With close to 200 secondary school students attending Halton District School Board’s Secondary GSA Student Conference, co-student leaders, Emma Owens and Austin Small, were hopeful the message of inclusivity and acceptance will help connect their peers.
“Inclusivity is really important and that idea helps make the LGBTQ community feel at home and welcomed,” said Owens, a Grade 11 student at Milton District High School.
Small, in Grade 12 at Milton District High School, says he hopes the conference addresses the acceptance of love across all social spectrums.
“There is nothing wrong with saying you love your friends,” he said. “There is nothing wrong with having friends of different sexualities.”
The 2018 HDSB Secondary GSA Student Conference took place on Tuesday at Milton District High School. The theme for the all-day event was Queering Valentines and featured keynote speaker Teddy Syrette
, a two-spirited genderqueer activist.
Organized for students and by students, the day offered LGBTQI2S+ youth and allies the opportunity to connect, converse and create with each other. Facilitated conversation spaces included: Inclusion in Sports, Trans Inclusive Environments, LGBTQI2S+ Literature, Spoken Word Workshop, and Indigenous and Two-Spirit Perspectives.
Erin Walsh, the Board’s Instructional Program Leader for Equity and Inclusive Education, said part of the focus of the GSA conference includes “challenging norms, being yourself and encouraging inclusive love.”
“Part of the conference is affirming identities and celebrating who people are in a safe space,” she said, noting group discussion would allow students to explore the issue of inclusivity in the sporting world.
Speaking to an audience of high school students and staff members, Syrette talked about his experiences growing up in Sault Ste. Marie while addressing his sexuality as an Indigenous person. He explained that everyone has a place in society to be who they are regardless of sexuality.
“There is space for you, you have a place in our communities, and you are important,” he said while applauding the Board and school for hosting the GSA conference in Halton. “There is nothing wrong with you. You have a purpose and you are beautiful.”
Throughout the daylong GSA event, there was a marketplace of community partner displays including the Positive Space Network, the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity and Egale Canada.