Saskatoon high school student Nomi Whittingstall says it's not easy being a teenager and being unsure exactly who you are — but it helps when you have a safe space like the Gay Straight Alliance group to turn to.
"For me, it's made it easier to be myself and to find a place where I know people will love who I am," said Whittingstall, who is the vice-president of the Queer Straight Alliance group at Bedford Road Collegiate in Saskatoon.
"And it's made it easier definitely to come out to my family as well and be open about what my sexuality is and what my gender is.
"It just made me realize that it's OK and that I don't need to hide."
Whittingstall, who is in Grade 11, was one of about 160 students and about 40 school administration staff who gathered at the school on Saturday for the second annual Gay Straight Alliance Summit on Saturday.
Students travelled from across Saskatchewan to attend workshops on topics including mental health and LGBT history.
Small changes help schools be inclusive
OUTSaskatoon education and operations manager Amanda Guthrie said a growing number of schools are establishing GSA groups.
"GSAs are simply a space where they can get together, they can hang out with their friends, they can potentially educate their fellow student body about their experiences as LGBT people," said Guthrie.
She said the summit sends a message to LGBT students, who might often feel alone, that they are supported and accepted.
It is also an opportunity for school staff to learn about ways to make the curriculum more inclusive for LGBT students, she said.
One example of an inclusive curriculum would be a mention to class if an author that is being discussed is queer, gay, bisexual or transgender.
"If we're not talking about people's identities, then we are only working to reinforce the norms, and the norms that society still buys into is that people are or should be heterosexual and cisgender," said Guthrie.
"So if we simply talk about the lived realities and that LGBT people have always existed then we are going to be making safer spaces and normalizing LGBT identities."
Guthrie said LGBT students still experience high rates of bullying and discrimination in schools.
Young people need time
Whittingstall said the summit showed how many people in the city were supportive of the LGBT community.
As a teenager and member of the GSA, Whittingstall wanted people to know that young people need time to figure out who they are.
"I just feel like people need to know that you should give the students some time because they don't know who they are yet," said Whittingstall.
"But if they say they want to be this person for how much time they want, then you should just let them be like that."
The summit wrapped up on Saturday.