Last weekend I was lucky enough to be part of the first National GSA Summit, in Toronto. It was beyond anything I could have ever imagined. Life-changing. Awesome. Incredible. Overwhelming. I honestly do not have the words to describe those four days. I was lucky to be chaperoning an awesome group of kids, and my heart just about exploded out of my chest when they accepted the award for CSSN TD Award for Excellence Against LGBTQ Youth Bullying. Over 30 groups across Canada were nominated for this award, and THEY WON!!! They spoke eloquently, wisely, compassionately.
Rather than ramble on, flitting from thought to thought, I decided to just give the highlights from the trip.
-when we pulled in to the hotel, past the crowds of LGBTQ students and allies, one of the students said "Wow....I'm not the gayest person here!" and he was right. For possibly the first time in his life, he was NOT the most flamboyant person in sight. Not by a long shot.
-At the opening night concert, my students made friends. They went out, the met, they mingled, and they totally opened themselves up. By the end of the evening I was seeing a difference in their body language. They stood straight. They STRODE into the world, rather than shuffle. Their faces started to glow.
-At breakfast the first day, one of the shyest students in my group introduced herself to all the strangers at the table. Then she introduced me. Then she asked questions, smiled, laughed, and made friends. It looked effortless, and in that moment I decided to learn from her, and open myself up to meeting new awesome people.
-Queer Prom. If you ever want to go to the best, most awesome party, make it a queer prom. The students were encouraged to be themselves, and to dress in any way that made them comfortable. They danced, they laughed, they got prom pictures taken. They danced some more. The music never stopped, and the kids poured their energy out onto that dance floor. Youth who normally sit off to the sides, watching, were up on the floor dancing, singing and clapping. The feeling of acceptance was overwhelming. I saw a first kiss. I complimented a hot guy on his dress....very Alice in Wonderland.
-Sunday afternoon we sat on the lawn with Ivan Coyote. Ivan graduated from our school, and went on to become an award winning author and a hero to many. Seriously, go read one of their books. Ivan was there to present our award, and we were lucky enough to get time to sit down together as a group ahead of time. The kids totally opened up to Ivan, and I felt so lucky to be included in the conversation. Ivan described our high school the way it was in the late '80s. We got to share the ways things have improved, and the ways things are still really, really sucky. I cried, they cried, Ivan cried. We talked about the award, and what it meant.
-Before leaving the conference, we had to say goodbye. It was heart wrenching, and beautiful all at the same time. We were all changed, and it felt amazing, but at the same time we all knew that going back to the "real world" was going to be really, really hard. Possibly painful. Friends promised to stay in touch forever. Emails and phone numbers were shared. Hugs, tears and words of strength and encouragement flowed.
Here are some of the words I heard and stored in my heart throughout the weekend:
"Your students are some of the most polite and friendly kids I've ever met!" (from another educator)
"I held hands with a girl today....and nobody even blinked!"
"If school was this accepting, I'd go every day."
"If we can do all this, imagine what we will do in the next two years!!" (the next summit is in two years)
And a conversation I overheard in the elevator:
Person 1: "I just met the coolest person, and they are going to add me on facebook!"
Person 2: "Cool. Guy? or girl?"
Person 1: "Ummmm.....no idea. I didn't think to ask."
Person 2: "Doesn't really matter."
And that sums it up. Doesn't really matter. Guy, girl, or undetermined. Straight, gay, or any variation thereof. Does not really matter. Awesome is not a gender, and fantastic is not a sexual orientation. They just ARE.