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Sixteen-year-old Abbotsford activist wins award

Chantell Gregg helped spearhead last December's Pride march

HONOURED IN BC'S BIBLE BELT. Chantell Gregg was named this year's champion of diversity at the Fraser Valley Cultural Diversity Awards, Mar 6. Gregg was instrumental in organizing last December's march after the Abbotsford School Board pulled SJ 12. Credit: Courtesy of Chantell Gregg

The 16-year-old high school student from BC’s Fraser Valley who faced down threats and fines to spearhead the Abbotsford social justice rally Dec 6 is this year’s champion of diversity for the region.

Chantell Gregg was presented with the honour at the Fraser Valley Cultural Diversity Awards Mar 6.

Gregg first called for a Pride march through her Bible Belt town after the Abbotsford School Board cancelled Social Justice 12 in the only school in the district to offer the course.

Ninety students had already signed up for the elective course at WJ Mouat high school when the board cancelled it last fall.

Gregg posted a call for a Pride march on her Facebook site.

“I heard gay, faggot and lesbo in my school so many times. I was sick of the discrimination in the schools and on the streets of Abbotsford and I wanted to do something,” she later explained.

Her Facebook site quickly attracted a lot of attention, much of it negative. In the end, she and some friends joined with students from the University of the Fraser Valley’s Pride group to organize December’s social justice march. Despite last-minute threats from the city to re-route or face fines, hundreds of queers and allies proudly turned out to march rainbow flags through Abbotsford.

Gregg says her winning the award could be seen as a warning to the school board that not everyone in the community thinks the way they do.

The Cultural Diversity Award recognizes those who work at building an inclusive society around issues of age, abilities, ethnicity, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation and socio-economic background. It is presented by Abbotsford Community Services.

Gregg’s mother, Lisa, says her daughter faced an uphill battle as she and a determined group of friends struggled to organize the rally.

“She kept a smile on and kept trudging through and fighting for what she believes in,” Lisa says. “I am very, very, very proud of her.”

Teacher James Chamberlain has long fought homophobia in both Abbotsford and Surrey.

He says Gregg’s award shows the status quo need not be maintained and that people can speak out on homophobia.

“I’m thrilled to see her win this award,” he says. “It shows people in Abbotsford that LGBTQ issues are important.”

He called the decision to give Gregg the award “enlightened.”

Last month, just days before teachers, parents and students gathered for a social justice conference in Abbotsford, the school board recanted and said the Social Justice 12 course would be available to students this fall  — but only with parental approval.