Rainbows, unicorns and one fearless deer lit up the first Diversity Party at Sk’aadgaa Naay Elementary last week.
Organized by students in the school’s new Diversity Club, a highlight of the lunch-hour party was painting a permanent rainbow by the school entrance — a welcome sign for people of any sexual orientation or gender identity.
“It means everyone is welcome, and no one gets made fun of just because they’re different or can’t do everything that everyone else is doing,” said Grade 6 student Ezra Bowie, when asked what the new club is all about.
With 10 to 20 students, Diversity Club met one lunchtime a week this spring to plan the party and put up a school hallway display that says “We Celebrate Diversity” and “Love Has No Labels.”
The students also watched educational videos about sexual orientation and gender identity, or SOGI, says Bobbi-Lee Chatelaine, the school’s SOGI co-ordinator.
“It’s brand-new,” she said. “Province-wide, there is a big initiative to increase awareness and promote a more welcoming learning environment in schools.”
Starting two years ago, the B.C. Ministry of Education pushed for anti-bullying programs that focus on SOGI, recognizing that bullying remains a problem for the many high school students who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or not exclusively heterosexual.
In one recent survey, nearly two-thirds of such students said they feel unsafe at school. Most alarming, last year the province found LGBTQ youth were seven times more likely than their heterosexual peers to attempt suicide (28 versus four per cent).
At Sk’aadgaa Naay and other elementary schools, SOGI co-ordinators like Chatelaine are now using teaching materials from the Vancouver-based ARC Foundation to better address the issue.
While the change has been controversial in some places — some parents protested outside a school board meeting in Richmond last week while the board voted to adopt a SOGI program — 52 of B.C.’s 60 school districts have joined the program, along with many in Alberta.
So far, Chatelaine said the Diversity Club at Sk’aadgaa Naay is a one-of-a-kind for Haida Gwaii.
And in islands fashion, the first Diversity Party had a unique guest — a deer wandered out of the woods and stood by an untroubled dog while a group of nearby kindergarteners briefly looked up from the giant soap bubbles flying around. Judging something overheard from one student painting T-shirts, the day was focused on more special creatures.
“My whole life is unicorns,” she said.