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Queer youth gather in Surrey for leadership conference

Event featured theatre, workshops and storytelling by Ivan Coyote

Tim, Kim and Charles (from left) talk openly to teachers from across the Surrey school district about their experiences being queer in high school during the Rainbow Panel workshop at the Dare to Stand Out Conference on Oct 22. Credit: Justin Langille photo

More than 70 teachers, students, graduates, parents and allies took over the Tamanawis Secondary School cafeteria for the second Dare to Stand Out Conference on Friday.

This past March, the Vancouver School Board organized its first queer youth leadership conference at St Mary’s elementary school (also called Dare to Stand Out), but Friday’s conference was a first for Surrey.

Co-organized by Tamanawis’s ambitious gay-straight alliance (GSA) and James Chamberlain, assistant director of professional and social studies with the BC Teachers’ Federation, the daylong event offered everyone a chance to share ideas and challenge oppression in schools.

Provocative live theatre (Berend McKenzie’s Tassles), a workshop on GSA organizing (Jeremy Dias) and the personal storytelling of Vancouver writer Ivan Coyote gave those in attendance a chance to discuss how to progress the movement for queer equality in local schools.

“Safe access to education is supposed to be a right, yet so many of us go to school every day under the threat of emotional or physical violence,” Coyote told the crowd bluntly.

“It’s still screwed up. We still haven’t fixed it.”

The high rate of suicide among queer youth, the anti-bullying movement and Dan Savage’s highly publicized It Gets Better Campaign were just a few topics of that galvanized discourse among the diverse crowd.

Most of the young minds in attendance used the conference as an opportunity to voice their opinions and imagine the equality that they want generations of future students to enjoy.

In a short speech to open the day’s events, Tamanawis graduate and queer activist Taylor Basso told the crowd that he once saw his school as a space of silence.

“I’m here now, and I see it is a place of sharing, a place of learning and place of expression,” Basso said.

Listen to the voices of some students who spent the day at Tamanawis in the short video below.