SPRINGDALE, N.L. — Several adults from Springdale and area nabbed an opportunity Wednesday, June 6 to show their pride toward the high school students who have been setting an example for what an inclusive community should be.
Pride Week came about largely as a result of the efforts and attitudes of the students with the Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) at Indian River High since the nationwide controversy of council’s denial of their request to paint a rainbow crosswalk near the school.
The week-long activities included a Pride March from the high school to Grace United Church, where the Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia took place Wednesday evening.
Close to 50 people took part in the march, waving their rainbow flags and wind spinners and donning colourful clothing of all sorts. As they walked through the town scrutinized for a perception of homophobic attitudes, several motorists honked in support of the public demonstration of inclusion. There was no vocal opposition, no sign of the beliefs that led council to opposing the crosswalk request out of fear of division in the community.
When they reached Grace United Church, more people waited inside for the ceremony to start. The event itself had some prayer, but reflected little of a church service. Reverend Rachel Robinson even acknowledged her first ovation for a prayer she delivered. Several local musicians performed songs, including Kelly Burt-Hewlett and Sharon Dove, Robyn Bixby and Christian Howse.
Burt-Hewlett is also a teacher at Indian River Academy. She is very proud of the students. Sometimes as teachers they can get discouraged, she said, but these are times when that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“It is not easy to stand up for hat you believe in,” she said. “What’s right is not necessarily what is popular, and they were very brave to do that.”
Burt-Hewlett and Dove sang the song “Brave” for that reason.
Dove also commended the students for being true to themselves. She said that is not always easy to do when there are people who disagree or look down on you because of it.
When she was in her early 20s, Dove said she won a singing competition. She was part of a church at the time, and she expected they would be proud of her. They were actually ashamed, she said, because the competition took place in a bar. It was then she realized she didn’t belong with that church.
That crosswalk never got painted. However, there are now flags posted at local businesses and in different places around town. People in the community displayed the rainbow symbol in different ways, including the painting of a fence. There are garbage bins and picnic tables at the school now colourfully painted.
Ruth Cameron, the Indian River High vice-principal and GSA teacher sponsor, says diversity makes a community stronger and inclusion is important. Everybody should feel safe, she says.
“For many, those feelings will be helped by a visible symbol —a flag, a crosswalk, a picnic table or someone’s fence,” she said.
She said it is important for people to understand the difference between secrecy and privacy — privacy being a choice and secrecy being toxic.
“How wonderful it will be when that secrecy is replaced by support, kindness, care and celebration,” Cameron said. “This week, and this service, is moving our community towards that goal.”
Christina Pelley, the school’s guidance counselor and GSA teacher sponsor, says she has also grown through this process. She acknowledges being surprised where some community support for the GSA has come from.
“I had assumed certain people were homophobic because of their family background or because of the church they attend,” she said. “Many of these same people have expressed respect and support for what our students are trying to do for our school community.”
She said she the experience reinforced the importance of loving everybody, regardless of their life situations or beliefs.
“I am so inspired by the very students that I am supposed to be inspiring,” Pelley said. “Government pays me good money to try to teach and inspire, but I think you would be surprised how often those tables get turned.”
Claudia Lilly, a Grade 12 student, says she has not only grown more comfortable with who she is in recent years, but in the past couple of months as Springdale came under scrutiny over the crosswalk denial. As one of the leaders of the school’s GSA, she is the one who made sure the students and staff at Indian River High made sure Mayor Dave Edison and other councillors knew the students didn’t agree with the backlash and harsh criticism directed their way.
Lilly is bisexual, something she says she has learned should not be hidden. June 6, she informed those in attendance — as she previously did when addressing council at a public meeting — of her sexuality as she explained what the GSA has meant to her.
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