"This is the first time I've come out as queer and can fully be myself."
I hold onto these words from a student who recently shared at Windsor Essex Catholic District School Board's first GSA conference, WEshine. It was a day to support and celebrate more than 100 LGBTQ+ students and allies across the board.
I saw the weight of this day for many LGBTQ+ students. I saw them relax. I saw them laugh. I saw their courage in showing up and being fully seen.
It was incredible to witness these moments and hear how much the culture has shifted in Catholic schools since I was a student. They could share their stories, including letting me know they were here because they were "really gay." I was amazed they could speak so nonchalantly in front of their peers.
A former student in the Windsor-Essex board, Eli, also shared his coming out story publicly for the first time. If he could share his story so openly only a few years after graduating, what would that mean for the next generation?
"Those who identify, you have an amazing community of support... You are loved by God and the community. We want you to feel that every day."
It often brings me to tears to hear words like this and see educators stand in support of their LGBTQ+ students. Many educators, students and community members have been advocating and working tirelessly for years to have these spaces.
It matters for these students to know there are people who love and support them in their Catholic communities. This saves lives.
When I asked if they believed it was possible to be LGBTQ+ and Catholic, many students put up their hands. They shared stories about family and friends who are out and still practicing their faith.
These young people have representation in a way I never had.
But I know it's still hard for many of them. I know there were students there who are struggling deeply and haven't found the words to say their stories out loud. They're afraid of what their family, friends and faith communities will think.
There were also students who struggle to see themselves represented as queer people of colour. Several racialized students approached me to talk about the challenges of being in predominately white communities.
How do they share this part of themselves? Who are the queer and racialized Christians and Catholics they see?
I was impressed they were already thinking about intersectionality, exploring these different parts of their identity in such a nuanced way. I was never in a place to come out in high school, let alone think about how my racial identity intersected with queerness, gender and faith.
The culture is shifting in these spaces. Sometimes, it feels really slow. Other times, I'm shocked at the changes that have happened since I was in high school.
It's exciting to be part of this movement and to see the ways LGBTQ+ students can be seen, heard and fully be themselves.
You can see what happened at WEshine in this video by CTV Windsor.