It All Starts With Awareness -LGBTQ Day in Eskasoni

On March 31 and April 1, 2015, staff and students at Allison Bernard Memorial High School listened attentively as Nolan Pike, Raven Davis and John Robert Sylliboy shared their stories about their experiences as two spirited and transgender individuals. 

Earlier this year, Principal Newell Johnson provided information to her staff regarding the provincial guidelines on transgender and non-conforming students in order to help them familiarize themselves with the topic. 

The students in the school wanted to take this a step further. A group in the school called the Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) group wanted to organize an event discussing gender issues that would include both staff and students. Through their efforts, along with the help of teachers Ronnie Martin and Sherise Paul, Principal Newell Johnson, and Student Services Coordinator from Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey Janean Marshall, the LGBTQ day was planned. 

What was expected to be a one-day event was actually spread out over two days due to a snowstorm that cancelled afternoon classes on the planned day of the event.

On day one, Davis discussed the different terminology surrounding LGBTQ and talked about her experiences growing up. She talked about how her feelings changed over time and at times she identified with one term and at other times she felt that another word more closely described her feelings. She explained what the term “Two Spirited” means to her and how she identifies with that definition. 

Pike spoke to the crowd about his experience growing up in Ontario, knowing that even though the outside world saw him as a female, he didn’t identify as that on the inside. He shared how tough it was as a young person to feel such a huge disconnect between what you are ARE and what people can actually see.

He explained to the students that the first step in the process of aligning what the outside world sees to those inner feelings is actually talking about it and telling someone about those feelings. 

He stressed the importance of friendship and how having even just one friend to talk to about those feelings can make such a huge difference. 

“Just listening, accepting and honouring that about a friend who tells you they are gay is such a big step.” 

Pike explained to the students that although he is hired to come in as an “expert” on transgender issues, he knows that the most important thing he can do is to make sure he is always listening and learning. He told them that everyone’s experience is a personal and individual one, and in order to talk to people about it, its always important to listen. “I’ve learned what I know because I listen,” explained Pike. “There’s always something new to learn.”

 On day two, John Robert Sylliboy spoke with the group about his experiences with being two spirited. 

One of the aspects that was stressed by all three presenters was the importance of community acceptance. They explained how much of a difference it can make to the person dealing with gender identity issues to have that support. 

The students and staff involved were very attentive during the workshop and everyone walked away with more awareness about gender issues.