One Life to Learn

Learning; a simple verb that is often taken for granted. This seemingly basic verb is a lifelong and intentional action that goes hand-in-hand with allyship. Fernie Pride Society is fortunate to work with many dedicated educators in the Elk Valley and to continue collaborations with community organizations to ensure that inclusive and diverse learning opportunities are available for people in all stages of life.

Kevin Allen, historian and current president of Fernie Pride Society, explains that, “history evolves, language evolves, and education is just one component of this evolution. We are in a time where what is being taught, what people are being exposed to include the voices and lived experiences of those that have been traditionally marginalized and made vulnerable.”

This is evidenced in changing school curriculum, the advent of SOGI 123 (sexual orientation and gender identity), and the existence of GSA’s (gay straight alliances) in some BC schools. According to the BC Ministry of Education, 19% of BC high school students identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or not exclusively heterosexual, 1% of BC high school students identify as transgender, and 5% of Indigenous students identify as Two-Spirit. It is critical that all students see themselves as safe and respected in their schools, but it is equally important that they are also represented in what they are taught. Tomson Highway, Joshua Whitehead, Jim Egan, The Brunswick Four, Operation Soap Police Raids, Little Sister’s Bookstore. Many voices and points of the past that have contributed to the Canada that we know today. Ensuring a 2SLGBTQ+ inclusive curriculum can help students of all ages, genders, and sexual identities better understand their world and their differences. For 2SLGBTQ+ students it can mean feeling safer at school and to not simply be tolerated but accepted.

Danielle Gibson, teacher sponsor for the Fernie Secondary Rainbow Club notes that, “Research has shown that the mere presence of a GSA in a school lowers negative thoughts in youth and brings the rate of suicide down. Even if you aren’t part of the group or the meetings, the presence of it makes a difference. From my experience as an educator, our rainbow group has brought like-minded people together to form connections and offers a safe space. We always welcome new members and believe that having an open-door policy to both 2SLGTBQ+ youth and allies is an important part of who we are. As a community, we have strength against negative words, actions, and people. My goal is to educate and to help create a positive and safe space.”

Fernie Pride Society has many educational opportunities throughout the year, both in core programming as well as special events such as the annual Elk Valley Pride Festival. The Festival will return to Fernie for the fifth year from September 23-26. Drag Story and Craft Time, Art History, Queer and Trans History of BC, Creating Inclusive Spaces, Men’s Health, Rainbow Reads, and more - there is sure to be something for everyone.

Harvey Milk said, “If you are not personally free to be yourself in that most important of all human activities... the expression of love... then life itself loses its meaning.” Inclusive education helps us to put words to the meaning - to see love not as an abstract idea reserved for only the special few but rather as the default and concrete setting for all.

Photo Credit: Vince Mo