It’s been a hectic couple of months for the kids from the F.H. Collins gay-straight alliance, but the group is ending the school year with a prestigious national award for its work.
The F.H. Collins GSA won the Canadian Safe School Network award for excellence against homophobic bullying for their work supporting Liam Finnegan and other Vanier students in their fight to get a GSA at the Whitehorse Catholic high school.
“We had our first meeting this year in December, and then we were just kind of thrown into it with the whole Vanier policy thing, and being nominated and winning the award. It’s been so busy for a semester and a half,” said Kristy Sibbeston, one of the F.H. Collins members.
Sibbeston and Finnegan are part of a delegation from the F.H. Collins GSA in Toronto this weekend for OUTshine, a summit of gay-straight alliances from across the country. At the end of the weekend they’ll be presented with their award, and a $2,500 prize.
“I’m so excited. I can’t even imagine what it’s going to be like. The workshops look really fun,” said Sibbeston in an interview yesterday.
“I didn’t know we’d be getting the award there. The fact that we’re getting the award in front of everyone, I’m a little nervous,” she said.
“It means a lot,” said Julia Hall, a Grade 12 student at F.H. and one of this year’s key group organizers.
“It kind of just goes to show that even if you’re a minority, and we (Yukoners) are a minority to the rest of Canada – everyone forgets about us and we’re just kind of up there on the map, but if you can put your mind to it you can do anything,” Hall said.
The students have already had one round of applause before a crowd. On Wednesday the group got a tribute in the Yukon legislature acknowledging the award and their hard work.
Christine Klaassen-St. Pierre, the vice-principal at F.H. Collins and one of the GSA supporting staff, said she’s thrilled with the award, and proud of how hard her students have been working.
“They had planned to meet every other week, but ended up meeting every single week,” Klaassen-St. Pierre said.
“The F.H. club supported Liam and had him come to our group, and even the money they raised just to get to Toronto. What kind of bake sale makes $500? Only the GSA bake sale,” Klaassen-St. Pierre said.
It’s been a busy couple of months for Finnegan, as well. When the controversy of Vanier Catholic Secondary’s same-sex policy broke in February, Finnegan was thrust into the spotlight after he called out Whitehorse’s Bishop Gary Gordon, who wrote the school’s guidelines on same-sex attraction. Reflecting the church’s official position, it calls homosexual urges a “disorder” and labels homosexual acts an “intrinsic moral evil.”
The ensuing public debate led the Yukon Education Department to force the removal of the document from the school’s website, and ultimately to have it rewritten.
His stand also landed Finnegan in the pages of national newspapers and he appeared, along with fellow Vanier student Shara Layne in a story on CBC’s The National.
Since then Finnegan says things have been moving quickly, but positively, and he’s glad to see his friends at F.H. Collins earning national recognition for their work as well.
“They’ve done so much for the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) community to end bullying, and to fundraise for other campaigns and great, wonderful days,” Finnegan said.
“Apparently what I did at Vanier helped. When they included me in the award I said, ‘Well, I haven’t been doing as much as the rest of them have.’ I was told that what I did at Vanier helped, because I was part of the GSA at F.H. at the time,” he said.
Things aren’t yet perfect at Vanier. Finnegan said he and other students have been working hard to make sure a GSA is allowed at their school, and they are making progress.
“I’ve been doing a lot of work there for getting a GSA. We’re going to have one, but it can’t be called a GSA, which I find ridiculous,” he said.
The Catholic Church discourages using words like ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian,’ but Finnegan said at this point he’s not overly concerned with what the new Vanier group is called.
“I am just so happy to see a group at all,” Finnegan said.
“I don’t want to be nit-picking over the name when we have something at least similar. I’ve been told that the staff didn’t want it to be specific to one group of people; they wanted it to be a safe space for anyone who gets bullied.
“The name doesn’t define what the group is. What defines it is how it works, and what it does to help the students. It’s a leap forward. It’s not just a step forward,” he said.
The Canadian Safe School Network award is presented by TD Canada Trust.
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