High schools in Brantford are working toward creating a welcoming environment for students who support and believe in the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students.
Currently in three schools, gay-straight alliance clubs help students feel a sense of comfort and belonging alongside classmates who support individual rights.
Gay-straight alliance clubs at Brantford Collegiate Institute, North Park Collegiate and Pauline Johnson Collegiate provide members a safe place to talk about their experiences and find ways to boost acceptance of all students.
“It’s not really like a club. It’s just kind of like a safe place that kids can go to just hang out and they know they’re welcome there,” said Grade 11 North Park student and gay-straight alliance member Nick Owen. “It just makes you feel good knowing that there are people who are around you that are supporting the same thing you do.”
Clubs don’t only include LGBT students, but invite all students to join for discussions and create awareness.
“Every student is welcome. Your sexuality makes no difference,” said North Park family studies teacher and gay-straight alliance supervisor Elle Mantopoulos. “Our focus is to give individuals who support gay rights a place to sit and talk.”
Members of BCI’s gay-straight alliance have a goal for what they want to see change throughout the school year.
“Everyone wants more awareness,” gay-straight alliance supervisor Jen Link said. “(The students) are generally dissatisfied with the language. ‘Gay’ is used a lot, and ‘fag’… The first thing that they want is to just educate staff a little bit better in terms of how hurtful it can be to hear those kinds of things.”
Gay-straight alliance clubs may not have has as many members as other school clubs, but members believe they need to represent LGBT communities at their schools.
“These clubs also show the school community that the student body welcomes and celebrates individuality, uniqueness and the diversity in every student,” said Shawn McKillop, manager of communications with the Grand Erie District School Board.
Gay-straight alliance clubs may only exist in three Brantford high schools, but that doesn’t mean the topic isn’t generating a conversation in other schools.
A spokesperson for the Brant-Haldimand-Norfolk Catholic District School Board said it is up to the administration at St. John’s College and Assumption College to approve a gay-straight alliance club if students were to show interest.
“If staff or students express a need for a club of any type it would be the school principal who receives the request and they are always there to assist,” said Tracey Austin, the board’s manager of communications.
Students who choose to join gay-straight alliances are showing what it means to be accepting. And the existence of such clubs is opening up a discussion in Brantford schools.
Krysten McCumber is a North Park Collegiate co-op student completing a work placement at Brant News.