Catholic educators stand in solidary with LGBTQ+ students

Posted by on May 31, 2016 in Blog, Christian, LGBTQ | 3 Comments
Educators standing in solidarity. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

Standing in solidarity. (Jenna Tenn-Yuk)

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.

Sharing my story. (Fatin Chowdhury)

Sharing my story. (Fatin Chowdhury)

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.

A great crowd! (Fatin Chowdhury)

A great crowd! (Fatin Chowdhury)

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.

3 Comments

  1. Mary DeNisco
    June 2, 2016

    Jenna – There WAS light in the room, and you brought it!!!

    There IS NOTHING WRONG with LGBTQ people; finally the world is embracing this.

    It is because of Your bravery and YOUR courage that the “conversation started” at LCS and, I’m sure, many other places.

    It is because of YOUR work and YOUR ability to engage an audience that young people will find the same courage and the same bravery to one day tell their stories.

    If there was warmth in the room, YES, I must say it came from my colleagues who not only stood in solidarity with LGBTQ students but expressed the commitment of our Catholic school’s ACCEPTANCE and INCLUSION of ALL PEOPLE! It was one of THEE proudest moments of my teaching career!

    You express it well, Jenna….”This is the start of something beautiful and will impact generations of students to come.” Our Religion Department Head, Laura Caprara, summed it up similarly, “And with one small gesture, we begin to change the world.”

    Keep it coming, young woman; you’re our lead!

    Mary DeNisco
    Loretto College School Chaplain

    Reply
    • jennatennyuk
      June 7, 2016

      Thanks, Mary! I really appreciate your kind words. Keep up the great work you’re doing to create safe spaces for LGBTQ+ students at Loretto. This is an exciting time!

      Reply
  2. Around the Globe, LGBT Progress in Catholic Education is Slow, But Happening | Bondings 2.0
    July 22, 2016

    […] But one Canadian school in Toronto, Loretto College School, revealed a powerful way forward that helps entire communities. Jenna Tenn-Yuk, a spoken word artist, reported on Health and Wellness day at the all-girls high school. During  the day’s assembly, the school’s chaplain and six other staff affirmed LGBT students and championed gay-straight alliances. Tenn-Yuk wrote on her blog: […]

    Reply

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