"I grew up with a heteronormative dream
Going off to high school
Meeting a boy
Being in a relationship
Being like the girls I saw in the movies
At 12 I realized that I would never be like those girls …”
When Elizabeth Wells was a student in elementary school, a small rainbow triangle on the doors of the library caught her eye each time she walked by. It was a tiny sticker left over from the era in which the building had been a secondary school, but it made a huge difference.
“Even before I was becoming aware of my own identity, seeing a sticker like that sends the message of safety and acceptance,” says Wells, now wrapping up her first year at Simcoe Composite School (SCS).
By Grade 8, she was the only out student in her school. She said most years, the weeks leading up to the first day of school left her “petrified.” But all that changed last summer before she started high school.
“I remember seeing posters for the Gay-Straight Alliance at SCS when I went to the information night in Grade 8,” she says. “It was amazing to see the Pride flag right when you walk in the front doors, and now being here, I’ve met so many teachers and students who are open and accepting. I’m so excited to be here.”
Wells wrote a slam poem – a powerful, spoken-word form of poetry – about her experiences as a young member of the LGBTQ+ community, and a few weeks ago, she performed it during a Board meeting for Trustees, Superintendents, and senior management staff to kick off Pride Month. She received a standing ovation.
“Ninth grade and everything changed
Everything was just a little more gay
On the third day of school
A student in my English class wore a rainbow ‘We Are All Human’ t-shirt
And I thought to myself,
Wow, I could do that too
I could be myself at this school …”
Grand Erie’s Multi-Year Plan includes the vital pillars of Equity and Well-Being, working to ensure staff, students, and families feel safe and welcomed, promoting an enabling environment where all students can reach their full potential. Initiatives such as the Rainbow Ball, a semi-formal held annually at a Grand Erie school and open to all secondary students, share the goals of Pride Month: creating unity and strength across the LGBTQ+ community and among its allies, while continuing to define safe, accepting spaces across the board.
“Then came a night I will never forget
The Rainbow Ball
A night of friendship, love and safety
A night of meeting new people where I didn’t have to hide …”
Last month, a partnership between Simcoe Composite School and Delhi District Secondary School’s Gay-Straight Alliances – dubbed Norfolk Students Take the Village – brought students from small towns to the big city to learn more about the histories of the LGBTQ+ communities in Canada, including a visit to the Glad Day Bookstore, the AIDS Memorial, and the Alexander Wood statue. Guidance Councillor Jason Dale from Simcoe Composite and Teacher Carly Vermeulen from Delhi District were instrumental in the planning of this first-time event. Taking the subway was an adventure in itself, but arriving at the Village was like stepping into a new world of acceptance for students.
“When we got off the subway, we saw this tall, muscular man walking by wearing short-shorts with a Pride flag tied around his shoulders, and it immediately brought a smile to everyone’s face because we don’t see that every day,” said Wells. “It’s comforting to know places like that exist.”
The importance of celebrating Pride, and helping students see themselves reflected in the world around them, remains a vital goal.
“There are students that I know who live in fear of coming out, and who have dealt with a lot of things no 14-year-old should because of who they are,” notes Wells. “There are students who are out at school but not at home, so coming to school and being able to experience acceptance is like a deep breath of relief.”
“We need spaces like this where we don’t have to be resilient
Where we don’t have to be strong or brave
Where we can be nervous and giddy and vulnerable.”
To view a performance of Elizabeth Wells’ poem in its entirety, please click here.
Photo Caption: Trustees along with Director Brenda Blancher, Simcoe Composite School Guidance Counselor Jason Dale and student Elizabeth Wells pose with the Pride flag at the May 27 Board meeting