Watch the video above: Breaking the Silence conference
SASKATOON – High school students had their say on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) rights and equality at the 17th annual Breaking the Silence conference in Saskatoon.
“The conference this year is 17 years old, it’s the longest standing conference of its kind in Canada,” said Don Cochrane, University of Saskatchewan professor emeritus, in an interview on Saturday.
“We’ve had the highest attendance last night – the highest enrollment,” he explained.
Bailey Lindsay, a Grade 12 transgender student, was one of the speakers at the event.
He said he suffers discrimination.
“Currently there is a high tolerance level for teachers who say homophobic and transphobic things during class,” Lindsay explained, adding how one teacher in particular has insulted him many times.
“She referred to trans people as cross-dressing freaks,” he said.
Some of the students who spoke at the conference say they go to great lengths to attend schools that welcome and accept LGBTQ youth.
“I live on the north side of town, and I travel three hours a day to get to and from school because it is so fantastic,” said Dani Despins, who goes to Tommy Douglas Collegiate.
Despins said gay-straight alliances in local high schools have been an invaluable tool for igniting change.
“We talk about gender, about the problems in our school, how we can help the school, how we can improve the community in general,” Despins explained.
Saskatoon Fairview MLA Jennifer Campeau, who headed the province’s anti-bullying strategy, also attended the event. She told those gathered that many gender diversity advocates were consulted before the group released its report last November.
“We wanted to get a snapshot of what the Saskatchewan experience is, and we wanted to hear first hand from grassroots on how bad the problem is, or if they have a problem in their area. And we had over 1,000 submissions,” said Campeau.
The province’s anti-bullying strategy is now being implemented over a three-year period.