It’s Wednesday lunchtime in a busy junior high school in small-town Newfoundland. Grade 7,8 and 9 students trickle into a classroom calling out friendly greetings to one another. Students sit in a large circle, lay out their lunches and begin to chat. Eventually, someone raises the topic of the Springdale crosswalk. A healthy discussion ensues. The students come to a general consensus that there is a lack of understanding amongst an older generation. One of them says, “How can we make people understand?” Another replies, “Let’s have an information night and invite local parents.”
This student-led conversation occurred recently at a meeting of the Gender-Sexuality Alliance at my school in central Newfoundland. I have been staff sponsor of GSA groups for almost a decade now, and I have witnessed dozens of such conversations.
Where people on social media and in the news lament the lack of support for LGBT-Q+ folks, the kids at the center of the discourse just put their heads together and try to make things better for everyone. They care about and educate one another, and we can learn a lot from them.
People have been very vocal about the lack of support for the LGBT-Q+ community in rural Newfoundland and Labrador lately. While it is worthwhile to report these stories, it is also important to highlight the good things that are happening. If we flip the script, we can see that Springdale has a very active GSA at their high school.
Likewise, the Get Real program which became a topic of dissent in Middle Arm last week has been delivered at schools across the province over the course of the last few years with hardly a mention at all. Many of our junior and senior high schools have GSAs, and most schools have run educational programs around LGBT-Q+ respect and inclusion. Our school staffs have completed training by EGALE certified trainers.
The young people in our rural communities will not hide their heads in shame and say, “We live in a backward place” because of the decisions of a handful of adults. They know that the 4 people on the Springdale town council who voted against the crosswalk don’t represent everyone. (And in the days since they’ve watched knowingly as the same councillors decided to raise rainbow flags and paint picnic tables). They know that the parents in Middle Arm who kept their kids home are afraid of something they do not know a lot about, and that education, not division, is key.
The students in our rural GSAs are proud of the work they have done and continue to do. They organize socials and awareness days. They reach out to other kids who are interested in human rights and they make them a part of a group. They educate their parents and other adults. They create equity by giving a voice to kids who just a generation ago were completely marginalized. They build community.
Let’s shine a little light on the positive work that is being done in rural communities. If we always focus on the naysayers, we may create division where there should be conversation. Do not shortchange the power and influence of this young set of voices in our rural communities. It is strong and growing