A BOOSTER SHOT AGAINST HOMOPHOBIA
The Jasper Pride Festival is shedding more light in on an already-bright initiative. Meanwhile, Jasper’s local Gay Straight Alliance is hoping to keep the conversation moving forward on how local educators can support diversity in our community.
Camp fYrefly is Canada’s only national leadership retreat for LGBT youth. The camp has been praised for helping empower young people to become agents of positive change in their communities. Founded in Edmonton, the four-day camp has expanded to offer retreats in Calgary and Saskatchewan, and now offer workshops in Alberta schools.
“The youth from Jasper who went to Camp fYrefly had really positive experiences,” said Anna Declercq, Youth and Teen Outreach Worker and one of Jasper’s GSA facilitators. “They came back feeling more confident, knowing that they had a community of people who knew where they were coming from.”
On Friday, March 18 at 5 p.m., together with Coco’s Café, the Jasper Pride Festival will help raise money for the fYrefly in Schools program. Folk singer Kate Reid and Jasper’s local GSA will host an intimate evening of conversations, songs and poetry exclusively for LGBT youth and their allies.
Camp fYrefly co-founder, Dr. Kristopher Wells, said the original idea for the summer camps was to to give students a “booster shot against homophobia” before they went back to school.
“We wanted to give them all the tools they weren’t getting in their schools to build their personal resiliency and leadership skills, and also to know they weren’t alone and that there was a community that supported them,” Wells said. Wells, a researcher for the Institute of Sexual Minority Studies, also works with Edmonton public schools as their sexual orientation and gender identity consultant. He said that while the fYrefly initiatives focus on kids, embracing diversity is the responsibility of the entire community. An easy place to start addressing LGBT youth’s needs, Wells suggests, is with the language we use.
“Language has consequences, language has power,” he said. “When you say things like ‘that’s so gay,’ that’s a kind of casual homophobia. People say ‘I didn’t mean anything by it,’ but you’re talking about someone’s identity. If you’re using that kind of language, people aren’t going to be comfortable with coming out.”
As difficult as it is for educators to open these conversations, often it’s much more difficult at home. Wells said for parents, the big thing is for them to have open, non-judgmental conversations with their children.
“Children who are questioning their sexual identities and have never heard anything positive from their parents, they may never reach out to their parents for support. That may cause other challenges in their lives when they don’t have safe people to talk to.”
Happily, Wells said, the Jasper Pride Festival offers plenty of starting points. Get the conversation moving by visiting www.jasperpride.ca