Imagine this: you go to an all-girls Catholic high school and you identify on the LGBTQ+ spectrum. Maybe you’re out or perhaps it’s something you’re too afraid to say out loud right now.
Before the keynote speaker goes on, your chaplain and six other teachers and youth workers are standing at the front of the atrium. They tell you if you’re LGBTQ+, there’s nothing wrong with who you are and they are here to support you.
You’ve heard about gay-straight alliances (GSA) before, but don’t know much about them. You find out it’s a student-run club that provides safe spaces for LGBTQ+ and straight-identified students to meet and support each other.
I couldn’t believe what I saw last week before I gave the keynote talk at Loretto College School’s Health and Wellness Day in Toronto. Although I have done a lot of work in Catholic schools and have seen support for LGBTQ+ students, this felt special.
Staff were standing in solidarity with LGBTQ+ students at the front of the school.
I was deeply moved and quite emotional before I had to speak. I kept thinking, “I can’t believe this is happening right now. How would my life be different is this happened at my Catholic high school?”
But that was a long time ago.
Before I addressed the all-girls high school of more than 500 students, I thought I’d break the ice by having them guess how many years have passed since I was in high school. They shouted out responses from one year to four years. When I told them I started high school more than a decade ago, they couldn’t believe it.
Forget being gay, my age was the shocking news of the day!
After they recovered from finding out I was no longer a teenager, I shared some spoken word poetry, the challenges of coming out and the importance of GSAs. I told them how different my high school experience was more than a decade ago. There was no GSA and the students perceived of being LGBTQ+ were bullied and tormented.
GSAs are so crucial to help LGBTQ+ students know it’s possible to live their truths. Even if I wasn’t ready to come out in high school, it would have changed my life to know I could exist and there was support for people like me.
After I spoke, students had the opportunity to sign a rainbow flag in solidarity with their LGBTQ+ classmates. Dozens of students came down to sign the flag and after the talk, several students wanted to start a GSA at Loretto.
There was so much light and warmth in the room and it was an honour to be in that space. This is the start of something beautiful and will impact generations of students to come.