Russell High School students present at Rainbow Youth Forum

RUSSELL — Students from Russell High School (RHS) discussed the unique challenges of running Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA) clubs in rural schools during a presentation at the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board Rainbow Youth Forum, held earlier this month. 

The forum is an annual event that brings together community partners, students, teachers and administrators to discuss two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (2SLGBTQ+) issues. The forum encourages safe and inclusive school environments by providing an opportunity to enhance knowledge and awareness about equity and diversity issues. 

RHS students Ethan Oriwol and Carey Coté led a workshop on the challenges faced by GSA clubs in rural areas, including being distant from community agencies, activities, and other resources often located in urban areas. 

The pair said GSA clubs could assist with these struggles by serving three functions – acting as a social club, a support group, and an education and activist club. 

Social club activities can range from getting together for an hour a week to talk with like- minded students, to having a potluck lunch. In the support group function, these clubs provide students a safe space to discuss problems they may be having at school or in the community with others who may have experienced similar situations. 

In the third function, these clubs can assist in increasing education and activism. The RHS students encouraged forum attendees to have, for example, information tables through their clubs to mark events such as the Transgender Day of Remembrance or Pink Shirt Day

Students and staff attending the day participated in a variety of workshops and presentations that built knowledge and understanding of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, as well as homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia.

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