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Nu=Norm Conference

TISS Inaugural Nu=Norm Conference Inspires Welcoming School Communities


(Pictured above: Thousand Islands Secondary School student Katie Harper said the Nu=Norm Conference drew attention to the need to speak up against LGTBQ+ discrimination.)

(Pictured above, left to right: Rosemarie Hughes-Dendy, Sam Crosby, and Doch Dendy lead conference delegates in a "Sam Jam".)

(Brockville) – A group of students gathered at Thousand Islands Secondary School (TISS) last Thursday to talk about positive strategies to ensure their schools are welcoming places for all students.

About 35 students from five Upper Canada District School Board  high schools attended the Nu=Norm Conference sponsored by the TISS Radical Equity and Movement Club. They heard from a champion for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Transgender, Two-Spirit and Queer (LGBTQ+) community on the importance of resiliency, participated in a panel discussion on ways to ensure schools are welcoming and inclusive, and heard from representatives from a number of community groups.

“Our goal was really to bring student advocates of equity and inclusion together to share successes, brainstorm ideas and engage in deeper learning about how to make our schools safer,” said Rosemarie Hughes-Dendy, a teacher at TISS who helped organize the day.

“Some students also had their first chance to see that they are actually part of a larger student community. It allowed them to feel empowered.”

Activities featured during the day included:

  • John MacTavish, 52, a champion of the LGBTQ+ community and TISS alumnus, spoke about his days as a young man and how he suffered discrimination by his peers. He noted society’s attitudes are changing, but more work needs to be done to create a safe world accepting of LGTBQ+ people. MacTavish implored students feeling pressured because of their orientation to continue fighting discrimination. He said even the smallest daily actions of speaking up and supporting others being victimized drives change.
  • A panel discussion led by students in which they discussed actions they are taking to make their schools more welcoming for LGTBQ+ students. Ideas shared included hosting coffee houses to raise funds for equity conferences, the creation of gender-neutral washrooms, and ways to respond when students hear inappropriate language at school or on the bus.
  • Various community groups set up tables for students to visit in the activity room where they could get information on topics such as the Brockville Public Library GSA after school drop-in program, healthy sexuality, the Brockville PRIDE parade, confidential youth help lines, internet safety, and mental health services available in the area.
  • Students enjoyed an activity in which they used distances they chose to stand from a “safety line” to express how safe they felt at their school. Students then talked about what actions they could take to make their peers feel safer in their school environment.
  • Delegates to the conference also enjoyed two “Sam Jam” dance sessions led by TISS teacher Sam Crosby. The students benefited from some exercise and were rejuvenated for further deep discussions about LGTBQ+ issues.

Students attending the event pledged to take inpidual actions such as being supportive of those who may feel picked on, working to create safe spaces in their schools, keeping an open-mind and rejecting hurtful labels.

“I realize that I need to do a lot more and I need to speak up against this (LGTBQ+ discrimination) when I see it happening around me,” said Katie Harper, a student at TISS who attended the event.

“People need to know it is okay to be gay, to be bisexual, transexual and asexual.”

The event attracted students from TISS, Athens District High School , Gananoque Secondary School , Rideau District High School  and North Grenville District High School.

Posted April 15, 2016

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