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North Vancouver students seek rainbow crossing

Seycove club blazing a path for inclusive school

A group of Seycove Secondary students are hoping the school district will support their bid for a rainbow crosswalk at the school.

The students, members of Seycove’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance Club, told school trustees at their March meeting they’d like to put the rainbow crosswalk outside, near the school’s cafeteria, as visible show of support for queer and transgender students.

The rainbow crosswalk – which has been in the works for the past two years – is the latest project from the student group at Seycove. In 2015, the group – then called the Queer Straight Alliance Club – was successful in getting the first gender-neutral washroom recognized at the school.

Outward signs are important in signalling an inclusive environment for queer and transgender students who often don’t have an easy time in high school, said club members.

Small moments can be telling – like when girls and boys are told to line up on opposite sides for gym class, students told trustees.

“Usually I’ll just go on to the girls’ side. It’s easier than trying to explain to my gym teacher ‘I’m not really either’,” said Grade 10 student Parker Gilson in an interview. But those concessions come with a cost. “I feel like I’m not really being myself,” said Gilson, who identifies as gender nonconforming.

Those uncomfortable moments are happening less often now, as inclusive sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) policies have been endorsed by both North Vancouver and West Vancouver school districts.

It might mean a music teacher referring to “tenors and basses” in the choir, rather than “guys”, for instance, said Gilson.

“I never call my students boys and girls, or ladies and gentlemen,” said Andrea Yeo, the teacher sponsor of the Seycove club and district lead on SOGI. “I always say ‘Good morning students’ or ‘Good morning, people’.”

Grade 12 student Arlo Pritchard told trustees those gestures mean a lot.

“As an openly trans lesbian student at Seycove, SOGI has a huge influence on my experience at school,” said Pritchard.

Yeo said the Seycove club members are trailblazers for their generation.

One international student came to Seycove specifically because she’d heard about the group. Another exchange student from Germany went back to her home country and started an alliance club there after attending meetings at Seycove.

Yeo first got the idea for the club in 2006 after witnessing a distraught Grade 9 student leave Seycove after enduring years of bullying over being gay.

“That’s when I realized there were kids being bullied for their sexual orientation,” she said.

She put up a poster in her classroom, stating, “This is a homophobia free zone.” Within a day, someone had crossed out the word “phobia” with a black marker. It happened again on a second day, and a third.

That’s when she stood up and asked the students to join her in creating Seycove’s first gay-straight alliance. Five students volunteered. From there the group has grown.

“I think it is kind of out there that Seycove is a trailblazing type of group, doing a lot a great advocacy work,” said Yeo.

In other communities, SOGI attracted attention last fall, when Chilliwack school trustee Barry Neufeld described it as a “weapon of propaganda” being promoted by the “LGBTQ lobby.” Socially conservative activist groups in the Fraser Valley also organized anti-SOGI rallies.

In North Vancouver, however, the group hasn’t encountered any negative reaction so far.

Yeo, who has presented workshops for school district staff, acknowledges while sexual orientation seldom garners controversy now, issues connected to gender identity are still new for many people.

Trustees told students they hope their efforts to advocate will rub off on their parents’ generation.

“It’s us who need the education,” said trustee Cyndi Gerlach. “Children don’t need it as much as we do.”

Members of the club will be asking for feedback on the rainbow crosswalk from Seycove parents and students next month.