LGBTQ+ community member Oskar Wood had been hatching his high school legacy since the eighth grade: one “of acceptance, welcoming, [and] just a safe environment for everyone to grow and blossom into these beautiful people,” he said.
Now in his final year at Royal Bay Secondary School, Wood felt assured to approach his faculty about cementing that legacy. On March 13, the school painted one of their Ryder Hesjedal Way crosswalks with a pride flag in support of LGBTQ+ and BIPOC peoples.
Although he’d never experienced a definitive incident of hate as a queer student, as early as elementary school, microaggressions and assumptive comments towards his sexuality “built-up” and made Wood feel unsafe, he said.
After four years and with the support of friends, Wood spoke to Royal Bay teacher and sponsor for the Gender and Sexuality Association (GSA) Danielle Huculak with the idea of painting a crosswalk. “Just to have that sense of welcoming as soon as you walk in the school, and [show] that queer youth, and all youth, are welcomed within the walls of our school,” he said.
They decided on Daniel Quasar’s 2018 pride flag design, which features the traditional rainbow representing LGBTQ folks, but also a chevron of white, pink, blue, and black to represent progression for transgender communities and those racially marginalized.
Huculak said she’s seen the visibility of LGBTQ+ and gender-diverse students steadily increase during her tenure of just over two decades. According to the 2017 Fondation Jasmin Roy survey “LGBT Realities,” 13 per cent of Canada is LGBT, 45 per cent of whom have not come out for fear of stigma.
As such, Royal Bay’s GSA has become less of a required group for LGBTQ+ students to feel safe at school and more of a club to celebrate advocacy and diversity among the entire student body, said Huculak.
“[The GSA is] not becoming obsolete, because we’re not certainly there yet with [equal] acceptance,” she said. “But the need is different. There’s a lot more general acceptance in the student body. [Queer students] are just interwoven into the school, and it’s been nice to see that.”
So when some extra funding was made available from Royal Bay’s Parent Advisory Council, Huculak said the opportunity to paint one of the school crosswalks worked well with Wood’s ambition and the school board’s goals for diversity and equity.
Huculak said she also considers the project as part of Wood’s legacy at the school. “He’s a student that’s so community-minded with everything he does,” she said. “He has this capacity to think outside of himself and see the bigger picture … he’s just a really amazing kid.”
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