Decked out in pink shirts for #PinkShirtDay, students, educators and community partners from across Waterloo Region packed into Bingemans Conference Centre for the 9th annual Gender and Sexuality Awareness (GSA) Conference.
Hosted in partnership with KW Counselling Services and Waterloo Region District School Board, the theme of this year’s conference, “Live Proud,” was everywhere. Washington Silk (they/them), coordinator for the OK2BME program for LGBTQ2+ youth at KW Counselling Services had the crowd chanting “OK2BME,” reaffirming that being their authentic self is ok, even if others tell you differently. “Everything you are is ok to be,” they said, “No matter what, it is ok to be you.”
“Supporting events like the GSA conference demonstrates our commitment to equity and to ensuring that schools must be places where students feel safe to be who they are. We want all of you to live proud every single day,” said John Bryant (he/him), director of education for Waterloo Region District School Board. “Our schools are safe spaces for everyone who walks through our doors, and we will continue to create spaces that support the well-being of all students and staff. “
Creating safe and inclusive spaces where students feel supported and included is essential to their well-being and academic achievement. School-based GSA clubs help create these safe spaces for students who identify as a member of the Rainbow community and their allies. The GSA clubs at Edna Staebler PS and Waterloo Collegiate Institute received special recognition for the work they and their members do to raise awareness about LGBTQ2+ issues at school.
Emily (they/them), a Grade 8 student at Edna Staebler PS received The Junior Leadership Award. This award recognizes a Grade 7 or 8 student who is an active member of their GSA, is invested in LGBTQ2+ equality and has helped with one or more initiatives within their GSA. Emily helped organize activities for #PinkShirtDay, selling candy grams at school for students to send messages of positivity to their peers. “Not everyone knows who they are or has figured themselves out yet,” they said. “Our GSA tries to make it as safe as possible for people to be themselves at school. Our club is a space people know they are safe and that they can talk to people.” This was Emily’s second time participating in the GSA conference. They were most excited to be surrounded by positive energy, seeing the diversity of people and having fun at the dance. While they are getting ready to leave Edna Staebler PS in June, Emily is already thinking about how they can become involved in GSA and related clubs in high school. “High school is such a different experience, but I am going to try my best to be involved.”
At Waterloo Collegiate Institute, Alivia (she/her) took on a leadership role in her school’s GSA. Alivia helped set up a display and memorial for Transgender Day of Remembrance, highlighting some issues members of the Trans community face. Alivia wants Trans and other members of the Rainbow community to know that they are recognized and supported within the school community. “If you don’t feel 100% safe when you’re sitting in a classroom or with your friends at lunchtime, you can’t fully apply yourself,” she said. “To be the best student you can be, you need to feel welcome, safe, and supported.” Alivia received the Diversity Champion Award at the GSA Conference. Both Emily and Alivia received a $500 scholarship from Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada for their part in creating safe, caring and inclusive spaces at school.
The 9th annual GSA Conference was the largest event so far with 350 participants. Students attended a variety of workshops including slam poetry, an interfaith panel, masculinity and consent, creating safe spaces and more.
We are proud to sponsor this event and will continue to support our students, families, staff and community by creating safe and inclusive learning environments.