Reflections of Me!

Posted On Monday June 03, 2019
DDSB Education Officer for Equity and Inclusive Education Barry Bedford speaks to students during the Reflections of Me GSA Conference at the Education Centre in Whitby.

DDSB students participate in the Annual Gay Straight Alliance Conference

On International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (May 17th), Durham District School Board (DDSB) students in Grades 7-10 in their schools’ Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) gathered at the Education Centre in Whitby to celebrate who they are. The conference is organized annually by the DDSB’s Equity and Inclusive Education Department and PFLAG (formerly Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, now inclusive of all sexual orientations and gender identities/expressions) Durham Region.

Whether they identify as LGBTQ+ or just wanted to be a supportive ally, students came together for a day full of history, engaging workshops, singing, and dancing.

The morning began with an inspiring address from Lisa Millar, Director of Education at the DDSB. Millar expressed how important it is that students set the tone of inclusivity within their schools, “You are our new leaders, and we are depending on you to be strong, and champion inclusive, diverse and equitable practices by simply being who you are.”

Students were also treated to a lively keynote performance by Shawnee, a Two Spirit (referring to a person who embodies both a masculine and feminine spirit. Some Indigenous people use the term to describe their sexual identity, gender identity, and/or spiritual identity) singer/songwriter making music as medicine. She performed a selection of songs, each with powerful messages of self-acceptance, healing, and celebrating who you are.

Just before lunch, everyone in the Education Centre was invited outside to witness the official Pride Flag raising ceremony. Director Millar, DDSB Superintendents, DDSB Trustees, Education Centre staff, and students watched as the rainbow flag was raised up to the sky, signifying DDSB’s commitment to supporting, including, and creating safe spaces for LGBTQ+ staff and students.

Throughout the rest of the day, students rotated through various workshops including Think Before You Speak, Queer History, Establishing Elementary GSAs, and History of Drag.

Impactful discussions

In Think Before You Speak, Whitby Shores Public School Teacher Lauren Chapple led students in an exercise that served as a reminder that they are not alone. On a piece of paper, students wrote down a negative word that reminded them of a time they were bullied, crumpled up the paper, and placed it on a blank paper outline of a person at the front of the room. After everyone had brought their crumpled papers to the front, Chapple read some of the words out loud, and students discovered that other people in the room had been through the same or similar experiences. The exercise also emphasized how impactful words can be to a person.

To wrap up the day, endnote speaker Max Denley shared his journey of being a transgender man with students, expressing, “There are so many pieces of me that come together to make me. One piece is not more important than another one. We’re not all as different as we think we are.”

Barry Bedford, Education Officer for Equity and Inclusive Education at the DDSB, says these GSA conferences are important because, “Research shows that LGBTQ+ students are more likely to feel safe and are more comfortable being open about their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression in schools with GSAs because they provide a place to create a sense of belonging.”

Bedford adds, “When students feel valued and accepted for who they are, it positively impacts academic performance in school.”