Fall is in the air

August 29, 2016

by CJ Rowe

This past weekend a friend and I were embracing the gorgeous weather by rock climbing in Squamish. While rappelling down a rock face I found myself lowering next to a tree with beautiful green foliage that was turning a golden rust. A gold leaf fell into our rope pile as we were packing our bags for the hike out. It wasn’t the first sign of fall that day. Our early morning start prompted us to pull out our hoodies to keep our bodies warm from the damp cool morning air before it quickly burned off by the sun.

These sights and sensations always bring me back to the beginning of the school year. Sometimes, I reflect on what it was like to go back to school as a university student, but moreso late summer/early fall days bring me back to grade school and high school days. To the smells of new pencils, Hilroy notebooks and second hand textbooks. I also still remember the feeling of not fitting in, lunch hours whittled away alone in the art room drawing, not understanding the expectations that were put on me, my body and how I dressed, and the ways in which my sexuality was made invisible, unseen and unthinkable.

I hear stories all the time about how things are getting better for queer, trans and Two-Spirit youth in our school systems. The day to day reality of it all leaves many of us wishing for more. Something much more systemic that will provide real change so that all of us can thrive and not just survive.

With the school year on the verge of beginning, I decided to reach out to some of the youth who access the youth drop-in at QMUNITY to get a sense from them of what teachers and administrators should keep at the front of their minds moving into the new school year. A cheat sheet of sorts developed by youth of things that would help them through the next school year.

  • Bring in kittens and puppies as a form of stress relief.
  • Book a Pridespeaks workshop!
  • While doing attendance in class call out students’ names base on their preferred names and not their legal names. In fact, print class lists that only include peoples’ preferred names. Be willing to update the list as needed throughout the year.
  • During attendance ask everyone their pronouns. If you don’t know how to do that find out why it’s important and learn how to do it in a meaningful way. Here is a place to start.
  • Don’t lock the gender neutral washrooms and don’t gender police the people who want to access those washrooms.
  • Stop being homophobic and transphobic and step in and stop other people from doing the same. Take a Queer Competency Training!
  • Stop assuming that there aren’t any queer, trans and Two-Spirit people in their classrooms. Start assuming that there are and actively work to include our stories and histories into your teaching!
  • Don’t tokenize the students who are out in your classroom and don’t ask them to speak for all queer, trans and Two-Spirit people.
  • If your school has a dress-codes make sure the guidelines aren’t gendered (i.e. boys wear pants, girls wear dresses). Let people choose what they want to wear based on what they feel comfortable in.
  • Stop teaching gender binary notions of everything!
  • Take complaints about homophobia and transphobia seriously. Actively work to change the culture of your school to become inclusive and welcoming for all people.
  • Put posters up around the classrooms and the school that represent a diversity of people of all genders, sexual orientations, races, ethnicities, abilities, etc. Don’t just have campaigns that are heterosexual (ie girl/guy) oriented. Check out what Our City of Colours is doing.
  • Queer up the textbooks! We want to see ourselves in the teaching materials. Give us and everyone in our classes a chance to learn our histories.
  • Support your school’s GSA and if your school doesn’t have one, look into creating one.
  • Provide support to students who are queer, trans and Two-Spirit especially when they don’t have access to support outside of school.
  • Continually work towards reconciliation with Indigenous communities.

One of the things we learned from UBC’s Dr. Elizabeth Saewyc and the McCreary Center Society in July is that LGBTQ/2S “support programs in school could significantly reduce suicide attempts, binge drinking and other risky behaviours among both straight and sexual minority students.

We have a lot to learn from our youth. I encourage us all to take the cheat sheet above and put it into practice regardless of where we work. We can make it better and learn together.

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