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I want to start off this morning by thanking the Minister of Education for the invitation to speak and for the steps he is taking today to make BC schools-all BC schools-safer and more inclusive for BC's LGBTQ students. 

This has been a long time coming for those of us who have been advocating for better protections for BC's queer youth.

I want to thank all of the advocates and all of the brave voices who have worked so hard over many years to ensure that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer youth received the protection and validation they are getting today. 

Those voices have been from students, teachers, parents, and other advocates from every corner of BC. We owe all of these trailblazers and leaders a huge thank you.

What's happening today is important. It matters. And, coupled with the changes to the BC Human Rights Code made in July, will make a real difference for the lives of many youth in BC schools today and those that come after them.

All students, regardless of where they go to school, should be able to feel welcome and included in a safe space while being fully and completely themselves.

It means students in rural and urban school settings who may be in the closet, or just coming out, or thinking about changing their name to better reflect their gender, or already transitioning or have already transitioned can be hopeful.

Hopeful that things at school are going to get better-whether they attend school in smaller, remote communities like Fort Nelson, or Atlin, or Gold River, or Clearwater. Or in a larger urban centre. 

As a queer youth attending secondary school in Northern Ontario in the 1990s, it wasn't safe for me to come out. There were no supports. I was not reflected in the curriculum, or in the learning materials available at my school-except maybe in a negative way. There was no clear policy telling my school that its job was to ensure that I was safe, included, and supported. I know that my experience as a student in the 90s can't stand in for the diverse experiences of LGBTQ youth today, in particular for queer youth of colour or from immigrant communities or for trans youth.

The changes being made today mean students, if they choose to, can come out or transition at any school in the province and know that the onus is on the school community to support them and protect them.

That is so important.

Last year, around this time, the BCTF dedicated a whole edition of our magazine to gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation diversity in the context of BC's schools.

We gave five youth the two centre pages to tell teachers what was on their mind.
What school was really like for them.

There was anger. There was sadness. There was hope. But, most importantly there was a call for help.

These youth were asking teachers, principals, boards of education, and the government to just believe them and to work together, at all levels, to support them.  The BC Teachers' Federation is committed to continue working with the province and partnering with others to make the necessary changes to ensure this happens.   

Though there will still be much work to do, the changes being made today will help BC shift the culture in all schools-public and independent-and will go a long way in responding to the call that LGBTQ students continue to make.  

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For more information, contact Rich Overgaard, BCTF media relations officer, at 604-871-1881 (office) or 604-340-1959 (cell).

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