By Grace Foran

On October 19, 2018, I attended an LGBTQ2+ youth GSA forum hosted by the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity (CCGSD), in partnership with the Burnaby School District 41.

Both youth and educators were invited to participate in a day of workshops, which culminated in a post-forum reception where the youth had the opportunity to network and meet other students from different GSAs. The workshops covered a variety of topics including LGBTQ2+ terminology, transgender inclusivity, health and wellness, LGBTQ2+ history, and healthy relationships, as well as arts-based activities.

Around 9 am, in a packed gym at Moscrop Secondary School, and following the land acknowledgment address from a member of the Tsleil Waututh Nation, our hosts from the CCGSD welcomed us. Brief words of support, both for the GSA forum and the new BC Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) curriculum, were given by local politicians Peter Julian (NDP MP for New Westminster-Burnaby) and Janet Routledge (MLA for Burnaby North, NDP, Deputy Whip).

While the early introductory speeches and community support were notable, the apparent emphasis on prioritizing youth voices was outstanding. Both keynote speakers, as well as the many volunteers who helped us all navigate the school, were young people. In fact, the forum was largely youth-centered and youth-driven. While their stories were different (and tremendously heartfelt), each speaker emphasized the need for, and importance of, inclusive spaces for LGBTQ2+ youth.

For educators, it was an opportunity to learn more about the needs of LGBTQ2+ students and to develop skills and strategies to support LGBTQ2+ students and youth. The backdrop of this was learning about the SOGI curriculum. While SOGI is described as being useful for everyone, since everyone has a sexual orientation and gender identity, SOGI is particularly helpful for combating homophobia and transphobia. The purpose of the SOGI curriculum is to make sexual orientation and gender identity a part of many subjects and activities. The idea, then, is that SOGI-inclusive education will help more students feel included and welcomed at school.

A BC SOGI Education Lead presented one of the workshops that I attended. The purpose of the workshop was to provide educators with practical ideas about how to implement the SOGI curriculum in their classrooms. Simple strategies, such as changing the language that we use in the math problems that we assign (e.g. talking about two women as being married) can help build SOGI-inclusive spaces. In turn, these approaches can open space for dialogue and learning about the diversity of sexual orientations and gender identities that exist in our communities.

The pillars of SOGI are visibility, inclusive and protection, and this is precisely what the LGBTQ2+ forum embodied. While the forum provided valuable information for educators and youth alike, the most meaningful element was that it provided a space for so many LGBTQ2+ young people (and allies) to come together. The British Columbia’s LGBTQ+ Youth Forum, and GSAs more generally, provide a much needed and necessary space for young people to feel supported and safer in schools.