This year SMUS saw the beginning of its first Pride Alliance initiative: a student-led group for providing education to promote awareness and acceptance of gender diversity. Although many public schools already have a Pride club, SMUS is one of the first independent schools to start this group.
For Ms. Kathy Roth, the Director of the Senior School, the concept has been in her mind for a few years. Waiting to find the right time and level of interest among the student population, Ms. Roth found both this year when the SMUS Student Theatre Society decided to stage the Laramie Project. Coinciding with the casting call for the play, Ms. Roth gave a talk about hate crimes during chapel and called on students to take action on our own campus.
After her speech, there was a landslide of support. “I was overwhelmed with all the positive feedback, through email and people coming to see me at my office,” she says. The Pride Alliance group formed just after spring break, when they developed a mission statement and set goals for their future projects. “It was overdue at SMUS,” said current Pride Alliance supporter Liz Guilbault.
The group is still in the developing stage, starting out by stamping out the offensive language people use around school – comments like, “that’s so gay” – and joining in on existing awareness events. On June 4, students participated in Amnesty International’s Day of Silence – with this year’s event drawing attention to the harassment in schools against perceived sexual orientation and gender expression. Day of Silence is usually hosted by the school’s Amnesty International club, but this year both the Pride and Amnesty groups collaborated on this event.
The new Pride Alliance group is made up of over 20 boarders and day students along with many supporting staff members. Membership in the group is kept confidential, in order not to pass judgement on the students. The Pride group hopes to begin a long-term project of building a resource library filled with books and counselling materials.
“People think that if you’re in the Pride group, you must be gay, but it’s actually all about creating a safe and supportive environment for everyone,” says Liz, a Grade 12 student. Although she’s graduating this year, Liz is certain that the group will grow and develop under its new student leaders.
A feature article in the student-run newspaper, “The Ivy” commented on how the school community uses discriminating language without even realizing it. Student Josh Evans tackled the issue of using “gay” in a negative context in his article, “’That’s so Gay’ is Not Okay.” He wrote, “The issue, as it’s called, is not homosexuality; it is the way in which we approach diversity of sexual and gender orientation.”
Rev. Keven Fletcher, the school chaplain, supports the Pride group and believes it will have a positive impact on the entire school. “The great thing about this group is that it addresses an issue which will have a ripple effect on other respect shortfalls, helping to tackle them as well,” he says.