In another step away from the Surrey school board’s anti-gay, book-banning past, nearly 70 high school students and staff members from Princess Margaret Secondary participated in that school’s first Pride walk on May 17, 2016.
“Hey hey, ho ho, homophobia’s got to go,” chanted participants as they marched through the Surrey high school’s hallways, cafeteria, grounds, along the nearby streets and back to a Pride flag-raising ceremony in front of the school.
“Today is going to change history,” says gay-straight alliance (GSA) president AJ Ramlu. “This is important because it’s the first Pride walk for our school and I think it helps all LGBTQ people and their friends to come out and celebrate and honour their rights and their own self-acceptance.”
Grade 12 student Sanjay Aujla hopes the walk will be a catalyst for increased awareness of LGBTQ rights within the school community. “I hope more people will be more accepting of people as a result of this, and that people become more aware of what they think when they hear ‘LGBTQ,’” he says.
GSA teacher-sponsor Sandy Weames says the students held the march in part to commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia.
“We know a high school not too far from here, Frank Hurt Secondary, has a Pride week so we’re going to start out with a Pride day and see how that goes,” says Weames, who started Princess Margaret’s first GSA when she joined the school in 2012.
“We have educational pamphlets and stickers to hand out and I hope that we will be loud and proud as a school and community. Our goal as the GSA is to make this school safe and accepting for all students.”
Parent Suzanne Fleur de Lys-Aujla joined the students to support their march. “I’m a PAC parent and I’m here because I think this should just be an everyday thing.”
Fleur de Lys-Aujla also helped raise funds to support Princess Margaret’s new Pride scholarship, which was made possible by an annual $500 donation from former Surrey teacher James Chamberlain and his husband Jean-Marie Russell.
“My husband and I are honoured to be able to fund this LGBTQ Pride Scholarship annually,” Chamberlain tells Daily Xtra.
It was Chamberlain who launched the book-banning case in 1997, when he asked the Surrey school board to approve three storybooks featuring same-sex families for use in his kindergarten classroom. The board refused, citing some parents’ religious concerns about discussing homosexuality with their children.
So Chamberlain and his supporters took the school board to court and eventually won after a six-year court battle that went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.
“I taught within this community for my last six years in Surrey,” Chamberlain says. “Students from our elementary school went to Princess Margaret. Despite Surrey’s homophobic and transphobic past, things are slowly changing.
“We’re happy to support and sustain a positive legacy within this community that focuses on LGBTQ student pride and acceptance,” he says.
The first scholarship will be awarded on May 26, 2016.
School counsellor Catherine Hall says much of the progress made lately in Surrey schools is a result of the district’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity policy passed in 2013, which has provided for district-wide staff training, as well as the identification of LGBT supportive staff or “safe harbours” in district schools.
“I think a part of the success is because of Sandy bringing her energy and enthusiasm into organizing this group, but also just in terms of the district becoming more aware that there needs to be more available in terms of supports for students,” Hall says.
“I’m looking forward to seeing how this starts to plant a seed in students’ minds so they can start thinking about the changes that are happening, as we move forward in terms of supporting a larger spectrum of people.”