“Being up on a stage right now in front of a huge audience and telling everyone openly that I am gay is the craziest thing that I have ever thought of,” says Centennial Secondary School graduate Calan Breckon, remembering his fears of coming out in high school.
About 100 students and teachers of the Coquitlam high school have gathered at its theatre for the launch party of The Diversity Project, Breckon’s brainchild.
An initiative against bullying and homophobia, The Diversity Project encompasses a gay-straight alliance (GSA)/diversity club plus documentary film, which will follow Breckon, students, school faculty and parents through the ups and downs of establishing a successful GSA.
Breckon says the impetus for his initiative came from last year’s spike in gay teen suicides and the subsequent It Gets Better project, columnist and author Dan Savage’s video campaign aimed at arresting that trend.
“I did my own It Gets Better YouTube video and then I was thinking, ‘How about I make it better, instead of just saying to the kids that it gets better and telling them my story?’” Breckon recalls. “I wanted to take it that one step further, and it snowballed into what it is now.”
Breckon, who will be head of Centennial’s GSA/diversity club, says his role will involve mediating between gay teens and their parents, organizing social events and inviting guest speakers from the Lower Mainland’s queer community.
He hopes the new club will provide an engaging and safe place for all students “who might not know yet how to label themselves.”
As for the planned documentary, Breckon hopes the film will eventually be screened widely so it can play a role in promoting diversity, as well as compassion and understanding for the queer community.
Martin Novotny is a drama instructor at Centennial and one of the sponsor teachers of the new diversity club.
“Straight students desperately need exposure to something outside of their box,” he says. “I know because I went to the school as a student and so growing up in Coquitlam, you’re really sheltered from a lot of stuff.”
Centennial student Thomas Merritt says he and some of his friends are going to join Breckon’s GSA/diversity club to support queer students.
“I find in our school, even though it is not mentioned a lot, there are a lot of problems with homophobia — like writing on posters and stuff and it is wrong.”
Merritt and some fellow students recently tried to get a GSA at Centennial off the ground, but he says it failed due to a lack of funding and the reluctance of queer students to join.
While GSAs at Coquitlam schools are no novelty — in fact, there are several throughout the school district — they are often unsuccessful, Breckon notes.
“It often depends on one strong person and their dedication,” he says.
“I believe this should be mandatory in every single school, and that way it wouldn’t just be another club that no one really thinks about.
“I am really grateful that I am able to work with a school that is so embracing and so behind me,” Breckon adds. “I don’t know how it would have gone if I had been at a school that is not so accepting.”