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Above: Teacher Shannon McLeod and students during Pride Day.

Pride Day at Thompson Creek Offers Lessons in Humanity

When an unacceptable comment was heard on the school yard at Thompson Creek Elementary School this year, Grade 6 teacher Shannon McLeod did what educators do best – she turned it into a teachable moment. What happened next exceeded her already high expectations of her students, and became a meaningful lesson in inclusion and belonging for many in the school community – herself included.

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Right: Grade 6 student Anna stands in front of a Pride Day mural students created.

"We had a very powerful conversation around the term ‘gay’ –  what it means, how it can reveal prejudice and homophobia, and be used in a way that harms others,” said McLeod of a classroom discussion that took place last fall. “I was really impressed by students’ responses as they expressed having family members in same-sex relationships or friends who identify as 2SLGBTQ+, and spoke in front of their peers about how hurtful a term like that can be.”

That’s when McLeod says she became overwhelmed with emotion.

“I was standing there as a closeted new teacher to this school who couldn’t get the words out myself,” she recalls as she looked at the supportive expressions on the faces of her 23 students. “Some part of me knew I was given this special group of kids this year that would be able to absorb the words I was about to say. I told them, ‘It’s okay to be gay!’ I stood there and finally found the courage to say something I’ve never felt comfortable saying in front of any of my classes for the past 10 years: I’m gay. My partner is a female, and that’s okay.”

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Right: Students send a message of inclusion and equity during Pride Day.

The students at Thompson Creek would continue to amaze her. Students in the senior classes at the school came up with the idea of hosting a Pride Spirit Day to raise awareness and promote a welcoming culture for everyone. The grade 6, 7 and 8 classrooms took the lead. Representatives from each class came together to plan educational content and engaging activities that were all rooted in the ideals of Pride celebrations the world over – uplifting the voices of members of 2SLGBTQ+ communities, supporting equal rights and opportunities, and stamping out homophobia.

“It’s not just about flying the Pride flag, it’s about reflecting on our own humanity and the humanity of others, embracing our identities, and standing up against discrimination, harassment and prejudice. If we aren’t standing up for others and interrupting homophobia and transphobia, then the space is not only unsafe for 2SLGBTQ+ individuals, the space isn’t safe for any of us,” said Christine Bibby, on behalf of the Safe and Inclusive Schools team in Grand Erie. “We cannot afford to be silent about the importance of the identities of our students, families and staff. We must be intentional in our efforts of both protecting and celebrating the unique and diverse identities in the humanity that surrounds us.”

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Right: Winners of the clothing design contest, students Kaylee (left) and Kaydence pose with their work.

The Pride Day hosted at Thompson Creek took place last December while in-person learning was in effect. McLeod and student representatives planned a schedule of activities and resources. Teachers Cathy Dykstra and Carolyn Silverthorne coordinated virtual guest speakers – former students – who shared their experiences and challenges growing up 2SLGBTQ+, and how they overcame those challenges. The day also included Grand Erie videos such as Matt’s story. A clothing design contest allowed students to express messages of love and acceptance through art, and students contributed to a mural in the hallway of the school featuring rainbow-hued wings with an important message.

“The wings demonstrate how our acceptance and love can lift each other up in a world where hate and ignorance push us down,” said Anna, one of the students who worked on the mural.

As Grand Erie celebrates Pride Month in June, there’s a lot to learn from Thompson Creek’s powerful Pride Day initiative.

“In sharing her humanity, Shannon makes the space safe for her students to be fully who they are. When we are not afraid to be fully who we are, and when our identities are acknowledged and embraced, we feel seen and heard. We are more likely to be understood, and to feel a sense of belonging,” said Bibby. “We can further affirm the identities of others through inclusive language, conversations and actions, and viewing students as teachers, not just learners. We can use diverse and inclusive classroom resources to reflect the experiences of our students. We can stand up and speak up against homophobia and transphobia, and in doing so, declare that abuse is not acceptable, and in turn our student’s and staff’s experiences of bullying, bias, prejudice and discrimination will lessen.”

Photos by Grand Erie Communications

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