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Vancouver to host anti-homophobia conference next week

About 120 students and teachers expected to attend

 About 120 students and teachers from 10 BC school districts are expected to gather in Vancouver for a conference addressing homophobia and gender stereotypes in schools.

The Dare to Stand Out conference, which will be held at Queen Mary Elementary School on March 24, is one of several seasonal events -— Pink Shirt Day, Day of Silence and the International Day Against Homophobia — that draw attention to the ongoing issue of homophobic bullying in school environments, says Vancouver anti-homophobia consultant and conference co-organizer Steve Mulligan.

There’ll be opportunities for attending students to learn about planning such events at the conference, Mulligan adds.

“Kids are going to be coming at [the conference] from different places,” says Mulligan, noting that some kids attending will never have been “in a room with that many queer people,” while others are already members of gay-straight alliances (GSA), are out or are allies.

“We’ve opened the doors to anyone, for schools that maybe don’t have a GSA but who maybe have some student council members who are interested in coming, to find out more about starting a GSA [and] how they can be supportive at their school, he adds.

“I think it will be very empowering for them to feel, ‘I’m not alone,’ and that there are other out LGBT kids out there, there are other kids who are simply supportive, there are lots of teachers who are supportive and schools that are doing really cool things, and be inspired by that,” he elaborates.

“For those people who are already quite active in their schools and doing lots, I would be hoping for them to come away with some new information, some new tools, strategies, ideas that they can take back to their schools,” Mulligan says.

The conference schedule includes actor Berend McKenzie’s performance of Tassles, one of the vignettes from his acclaimed one-man show, nggrfg. The show, which premiered at Edmonton’s Loud and Queer Festival and ran at Vancouver’s Fringe Festival last fall, features autobiographical snapshots of McKenzie’s confrontation with both racism and homophobia.

Little Sister’s manager, Janine Fuller, Vancouver Pride Society president, Ken Coolen, spoken-word artist Kimothy Shaughnessy, comedienne Morgan Brayton and the executive director of Ottawa’s Jer’s Vision are also on the conference’s roster of guest speakers.

Mulligan says he notified the education ministry about the conference but says he’s received no response.

No one from the education ministry returned Xtra’s call prior to posting.