Since the start of my education degree I have heard professors make comments that when planning lessons, or having a safe, inclusive classroom environment that there needs to be a safe place for LGBTQ+ community members to be welcomed. This suggestion has always been taken to heart by me; however, often these words of needing inclusion are left with little meaning because we have never been given resources or suggestions on how to create this environment. After years of university students saying that we need a professional development event that can help educate teachers on Gender and Sexual Diversity teachings, inclusions, and issues, UR S.T.A.R.S delivered on March 4th for a 4 hour PD event that included students, teachers, Camp fYerFly, and UR Pride.
The morning started with a Keynote Speech by Jack Saddleback , who identifies as a Cree two-spirited transgender gay man. Jack started his presentation by showing us a GenderBread Person. Which allowed the audience to think about where each person fits individually on the different spectrums. The way that we can think about a person is by their gender identity (which is what you feel and your perception of the world), their gender expression (how you present yourself to society), their biological sex (sexual organs), and their Attractions (who they are romantically and sexually attracted to) each person has a different level on each scale which forms their individual identity. The Cree culture teaches that as long as the child is happy, the community is happy. This is a lesson that society as a whole needs to learn, we are so quick to judge people for their own identity that we do not realize much it impact our identity by basing it off the actions of others. Jack gave insight into the daily challenges that queer people have to make daily in order to survive and feel safe, things that I personally would never think of, like which bathroom to use, or which part of the store to look in for clothing, and to how to act in public. I have consciously thought about any of these things before, because I have never had to worry about judgement. The more I listened and learned from Jack and other presenters the more I could see the connection between struggling with sexual identity and emotions, and struggling with mental health. I cannot even imagine the stress which people are go through while struggling with their identity, even more so if the people surrounding them are not supportive. Designing a space for students where they feel safe regardless of their sexual identity or orientation is a necessity in our generation, but this comes down to admin support, community support, local, provincial and federal government support. One teacher cannot handle the task alone, it takes a village to make all students feel safe, but it takes one teacher to start the change.