Pictured above (from left to right): Kathryn Ferguson, sponsor teacher for Thomas Haney’s GSA, and students Kayleigh Michel, Madelyn Houston, Elaine Nesbitt and Austin McCabe.
Thomas Haney Secondary’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) will march from the school to downtown Maple Ridge to celebrate the new rainbow crosswalk at the entrance to Memorial Peace Park.
Students will arrive at the Pride crosswalk on Friday, September 30 at 3:45 p.m. and have a celebratory picnic, rain or shine.
Kathryn Ferguson, sponsor teacher for Thomas Haney’s GSA, said the event offers a chance for the school’s LGBTQ youth to honour the significance of having a Pride crosswalk in the community.
“The rainbow crosswalk in the centre of our community is a symbolic statement of acceptance. When the city adopted plans for the rainbow crosswalk, students felt proud to be part of such a progressive, accepting community. The crosswalk serves as a beacon of pride and is a firm reminder that Maple Ridge is truly inclusive. Moreover, its permanence signifies the city’s commitment to continue championing LGBTQ rights,” she said.
Ferguson also applauded the recent Ministry of Education announcement that all schools in BC will be required to update anti-bullying policies to support and respect diversity, with explicit references to sexual orientation and gender identity being added.
Many BC school districts, including School District No. 42, already have anti-bullying polices in place that include sexual orientation and gender identity.
“We’re a bit ahead of the curve in that we did campaign to get a policy some years ago,” said Ferguson, who feels the ministry’s announcement and the attention it generated will bring greater awareness to SD42’s existing policy.
“I want everyone to know that we have this because we have so many staff and students that still don’t know that it exists,” she said. “I think that this ministry announcement will allow us to have our policy a little more out and proud, if you will.”
SD42’s Safe, Caring and Healthy Schools policy passed on February, 27, 2013.
“It was a district initiative, a grassroots initiative through the Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association, Social Justice Committee and local GSAs and students.”
Ferguson clearly remembered the emotional presentation made by the group at a school board meeting that was held on pink shirt day.
“It was a standing-room-only meeting and we had many students there and many shared personal stories about why it was important to them to have a specific policy that moved beyond just anti-bullying – a policy with specific language to protect and value the LGBTQ community,” she said. “The board unanimously agreed. The students felt some sense of ownership of this because they were apart of bringing this into action.”
Ferguson says the policy was developed as a collaborative effort between students, teachers, the teachers’ union and school board.
“The board was a really, really strong advocate in getting it done. There was a sense of urgency — especially after the presentation, where it really brought the significance of the policy into a new light for many.”
Ferguson has already witnessed positive changes for the LGBTQ student community since the policy passed in 2013.
“I think that once students realized they had this policy it was empowering. It enabled students to do things, for example, gender neutral washrooms, which has really been a student-driven force.”
Now a senior at THSS, Austin McCabe was in Grade 9 when the SD42 policy passed.
“It was nice because it was a way that more people in your school and your district and our community really have been accepting.”
McCabe said groups like Thomas Haney’s GSA are also important.
“It makes it a lot easier for kids like us to fit in, to find a place. And it’s wonderful to have groups like this because it has a place for everyone, no matter what your sexual orientation, gender identity, anything,” he added.
Elaine Nesbitt, a Grade 11 student at THSS, added: “I wasn’t really a part of our GSA officially until last year, but I heard a lot of stuff about it and I really liked what they went for. I feel that Thomas Haney is a really good school for LGBTQ+ kids and people who identify differently because I feel like Thomas Haney is very accepting.”
Madelyn Houston, a Grade 12 student, said there’s an obvious need for GSAs in schools.
“There’s really a big demand for this. I was kind of surprised but we just had our club fair a couple of days ago and we had a full sign-up sheet — there’s so many people who really believe in this kind of thing and think that it’s really important. Lots of people really need the resources and they really want these resources and I guess I’m just really happy that there’s a chance that everyone has access to them now.”
Before the school’s recent club fair, Ferguson reminded GSA students about the importance of their club to new members.
“For some kids coming into high school for the first time, for the first week of school, and they are going to see a group of people celebrating, they are going to see a rainbow flag and that is actually for many students a life-changing moment.”
Nesbitt agreed. “It was for me back in Grade 8,” she said. “I was like wow! There’s [a group] that supports me; that’s great!”