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Out in Schools gala raises needed funds for LGBT student outreach

Annual fall fundraiser provides about 15 percent of program budget

When he was a kid in Port Coquitlam, Carl Meadows was continually bullied, forced from one school to the next.

“I was one of those colourful kids,” he says. “In Grade 6 I choreographed Donna Summer’s ‘Hot Stuff’ for the entire school gymnasium.”

Flamboyance did not translate into peer popularity.

“I got bullied terribly,” he adds. “I actually didn’t graduate as a result.”

This history is the main reason Meadows, now 48, and his husband Les Dick, organize annual fundraisers for Out in Schools, the educational arm of Vancouver’s Queer Film Festival that brings queer films into schools and facilitates discussions around homophobia for students across BC.

“The first year was literally walking around our home with a salad bowl collecting money,” Meadows says. That exercise raised about $250 from invited guests.

Last year’s event raised about $63,000, he says, and Meadows estimates that since Out in Schools’ inception in 2004, the annual fall gala has raised more than $100,000 to support its programs.

Brandon Yan, who took over as program coordinator for Out in Schools in January 2015, says the fall gala organized by Meadows and Dick is an important part of the organization’s annual support, representing about 15 percent of its budget.

“It’s extraordinary community champions like Carl Meadows and Les Dick who are absolutely essential to our ability to make Out in Schools a reality,” Yan says. “We are definitely grateful for them for their tireless work, and for all of the artists who make the event possible and, of course, to each of the attendees who make a very real difference for queer youth in BC.”

Yan says Out in Schools continues to reach more students every year. “Last year we reached over 10,000. We gave just over 100 presentations. This year we’re trying to do the same amount of work, reaching the same amount of students, but we are trying to focus our reach, resources and attention on rural BC because the Lower Mainland tends to have quite the lion’s share of resources for young folks,” he says.

Meadows describes Out in Schools’ fall gala as a dress-up affair that attracts a diverse crowd — about half the attendees are LGBT, he says, and the other half allies and art lovers. Central to the event and its fundraising capacity is an art auction curated by Barry Dumka.

“At the end of the day, bullying has affected and scarred our community to the core,” Meadows says. “It really affects us as a community. So this event is kind of a way that we can all give back to make sure that the next generation doesn’t go through what we went through.”

“We get to be those kind of queer role models for folks who might not ever witness or be in the presence of someone else who identifies as queer,” Yan says, “but they might be secretly hiding that they are dealing with issues like that.”

Meadows sees the work of Out in Schools as particularly crucial in a province that has no mandatory anti-homophobia policy for schools. It’s nice that the premier of BC and thousands of others wear pink shirts to demonstrate support for anti-bullying efforts, he says, but by not addressing homophobia head-on, the government is ignoring the elephant in the room.

“If we erased homophobia, a lot of the other bullying wouldn’t happen,” he says. “You get teased for your ears and all the other stuff. Kids are kids. But homophobia, I think, is at the root of much of the bullying.”