Unlocking “The Closet” in Rural Saskatchewan

Presented by: Ben Grebinski, Kyla Christiansen, and Dr. James McNinch

“If we aren’t creating an environment where they feel safe we are doing something wrong.”

The idea of LGBTQ2S+ individuals can be hard for some people to wrap their heads around. In reality there is no hidden agenda, people just want to be accepted for who they are. Misinformation is the reason there is so much pushback and resentment around this topic. It is estimated there are 18 000 students in Saskatchewan are LGBTQ2S+ every student deserves to feel safe and 64% of LGBTQ2S+ students don’t feel safe at school. This is an alarming statistic. More needs to be done to make inclusive and safe spaces in rural Saskatchewan. Prairie Valley school division is leading in Gender sexual diversity (GSD) education. The presentation was an outline of everything Prairie Valley school division is doing to create safe inclusive schools. It was stressed that they want these safe spaces to extent to more than just classrooms, they want the halls, school busses, change rooms, everywhere in the school to be a safe space. They are working hard to put gender neutral washrooms in every school. They are instituting a 20 level course about Gender and sexual diversity, and even communicating with community members about this topic.

They stressed the idea of sticking to their statements. Saying that their schools are safe, inclusive spaces is a good start however, if their policies don’t reflect that statement, it comes across as hypocrisy. The idea was hinted at that their boards had to make decisions about what organizations the charitable projects their schools put on could support. However, names were left out and they never made it clear if they stopped supporting organizations because of their beliefs.

Prairie Valleys school divisions safe space policy applies to both staff and students. They both have a right to feel safe. Because of this, teachers are being drawn to the school division. One thing that surprised me was the amount of support these initiatives received from different organizations. For example, Sask power is providing funding to some of these community initiatives. Government organizations need to lead and help set the status quo. There is nothing wrong with being different and this needs to be normalized.

 GSD education is necessary to create safe spaces, and give some of the most vulnerable students a place where they feel accepted. I would like to end this with an idea from one of the panelists. All teenagers feel anxiety and stress growing up. We don’t need to complicate and make it worse for LBGTQ2S+ individuals by making them feel unsafe.