REGINA – There was an audible collective gasp from many of the 1,300 folks gathered in the room when Dr. Kristopher Wells recounted an email he had received from a father indicating that he would actually have wished his son had cancer as opposed to having come out and declared he was gay.
For the most part though this was a presentation steeped in facts and research-based findings presented by Wells. An award-winning and published author on the subject, the Assistant Professor at the University of Alberta was one of the keynote speakers at the Prairie Valley School Division Institute.
Wells, who is the director of programs and services in the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services at the U of A, lauded the courage and commitment of Prairie Valley, as well as the Ministry of Education in Saskatchewan, as being among the most progressive.
“This is a celebration of diversity here today. You can be proud to be part of a division that is a leader in diversity and you are helping make history. Now it is up to you to take this back to your school and make it live every day,” said Wells, a former classroom teacher himself.
“Educators are often reluctant to address these issues for fear of community backlash or perhaps there is a lack of leadership or personal biases. Believe me this doesn’t happen with every school board and that’s why we need to work at breaking the silence. The fact we are here today shows me you are supported by your school division,” Wells insisted.
In his presentation Wells, who has had his share of unpleasant experiences as a gay advocate, implored classroom teachers to do their part in making school a place where all students can be themselves and to thrive rather than merely survive. He said rather matter-of-factly that “I’m in the business of social change.”
Referring to it as the rainbow community Wells shared an overhead, which alluded to the many permeations that can exist in a classroom in terms of gender identification.
“It’s not the parts of the body that matter so much as the personality. As teachers we need to look at what we can do to reduce the risk and increase their resilience. Sexual gender minorities exist everywhere in the world and it is the fastest growing movement out there. The number one reason is because of increased exposure,” he said.
Wells said it’s important to listen to the children because they can be our greatest teachers. “We are at a transgender tipping point. We have many struggles ahead and we can celebrate how far we have come, but we also have to recognize how far we still have to go,” he summed up.
Be sure to check the November 9th edition of the Saskatchewan Bulletin for more comprehensive coverage.