Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 16/2/2011 (3168 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Erin Laforet had seen her fair share of friends being teased, called names and bullied because of their sexuality.
So, at the beginning of her Grade 11 year at Westwood Collegiate, Laforet teamed up with her best friend Stephanie Higgins to begin forming what would become the school’s growing Gay Straight Alliance student group.
"Other schools had GSA alliances, but no one seemed to take an initiative, so we decided we would," said Leforet, now in Grade 12.
"A lot of my friends personally are gay, bisexual, all over the place. I’ve seen my fair share of them being called fag, gay — every name under the spectrum. It offends me that my friends have to go through that."
Now, a little more than a year after forming, the group was a YMCA-YWCA peace medal recipient for its work advocating gay rights and promoting tolerance in the school.
"It shows the support of the community and that this is a good thing to have in schools and to have in the community," said Higgins of the award. "It shows that we are making a difference and people are able to see and understand that."
But it didn’t come easy.
The group, which meets once a week, has worked at creating information pamphlets on gay rights, an education package for teachers on how to teach acceptance, and is slowly building a presence on Facebook, attracting community and past graduate support.
The group inspired 90% of the student body to wear purple on Oct. 20 of last year as a display of solidarity for rising gay teen suicides in the United States.
All this in a time where recent research out of the University of Winnipeg showed 75% of LGBT students in Canada felt unsafe in at least one place at school.
"Since I’ve started teaching, I’ve seen a lot of kids hurt by the words and actions of other students who just are ignorant to what being gay is about," said visual arts teacher Catharine Teichroew, the group’s advisor.
"This is a home away from home. Why should students feel unsafe here? You want to walk down the halls and not worry about getting shoved in the lockers and being called a fag. What kind of a school is that?"
The alliance’s work has created a noticeably more tolerant, respectful and open environment, they say.
"A lot of people seem to be more comfortable with being who they are," said Laforet, adding that many students have turned to her and Higgins to confess their sexuality. "In the hallways recently I haven’t heard one person say ‘That’s so gay.’ "
"In my classroom there were times you would hear a lot of ‘That’s so gay’ being a common phrase for ‘That’s so dumb,’ " Teichroew added. "I find that I rarely hear that kind of stuff anymore, so it’s helping a lot."
Since forming, other schools in the St. James-Assiniboia School Division have approached the group for advice on how to form a group.
"I’m very proud," said principal Mike Wake. "This wasn’t about teachers advocating for kids, this is about kids advocating for kids. There’s not enough of that in the world."