High school students, teachers, counsellors and other educators from across the Island are coming to Nanaimo Friday (Oct. 19) to attend a conference for secondary school Gay-Straight Alliances.
The day-long conference at Dover Bay Secondary School, sponsored by Nanaimo school district’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Committee, includes a keynote speaker and four workshops that give students and staff the tools they need to help themselves and others when responding to discrimination and bullying.
Committee chairman and trustee Bill Bard said students and staff tell him that bullying based on perceived gender orientation is still happening.
“If anything, it’s worse because of the social media aspect – it’s covert now rather than overt,” he said. “There’s this attitude of, ‘Get over it, it doesn’t mean anything’. We lose kids every day somewhere because of bullying.
“We hope to educate people on what a GSA is, how to create them and make sure there is an outreach for kids who need that in their school to be safe.”
He is expecting 50-60 participants – most Nanaimo schools are sending students and staff, the district parent advisory council is sending representatives, and people are coming from elsewhere on the Island, including Victoria, Cowichan, Port Alberni and Campbell River.
The conference is free and open to anyone who feels the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning population needs to be supported.
The keynote speaker is Jen Sung, youth outreach coordinator from Out in Schools, an organization dedicated to combatting homophobia and bullying in B.C. schools, and workshop topics include anti-homophobia and anti-transphobia response training, how to start and nurture a GSA, a GSA-themed online scavenger hunt, and racism and other “isms”.
Bard hopes the conference will help to establish a GSA group in every secondary school in Nanaimo – currently five of seven have them – and just generally create awareness about the issue in the community and across the Island.
“It’s all about being safe and staying safe and providing a place where everyone feels welcome,” he said.
For more information or to register, please e-mail SOGI@sd68.bc.ca.