Vancouver's Out in Schools receives funding to expand LGBT rural outreach across B.C.

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      Out in Schools, a program which makes presentations about LGBT issues in schools across British Columbia, has had some encouraging news to share about funding.

      On Pink Shirt Day (February 28), Out in Schools announced that it renewed a three-year, $150,000 funding partnership with TD Bank Group.

      “Over the next three years, we will support program delivery, increase province-wide reach, and nurture the development of curriculum tools exploring sexual orientation and gender identity,” TD LGBTQ Diversity Committee associate vice-president and co-chair Lisa Paley stated in a news release.

      Out in Schools is also one of many beneficiaries of a recent national fundraising campaign for transgender rights.

      The Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity, the U.S.–based National Centre for Transgender Equality, and Lush Cosmetics launched the Trans Rights Are Human Rights initiative to raise awareness about the need for advancing the rights of transgender people.

      On February 15, Lush released a limited-edition fundraising bath melt, Inner Truth, sold for $5.95, with all proceeds going to trans-rights organizations, including the two previously mentioned campaign partners. The heart-shaped bath melt is half pink and half blue, and contains fair-trade organic cocoa butter, almond oil, bergamot, and orange.

      Although the campaign has ended, the bath melt will continue to be available for purchase until the end of March and their trans rights resource webpage also remains online.

      Thus far, $375,000 has been raised by sales of the bath melt.

      Out in Schools' Gavin Somers and Brandon Yan; Lush campaign organizer Carleen Pickard; transgender activist Morgane Oger; and advocate and ally Brad Dirks, who is a Fraser Valley father of a transgender son, gathered at the downtown Vancouver Lush Cosmetics store on February 27 to celebrate a trans rights campaign.

      During a gathering of LGBT activists and organizations at the downtown Vancouver Lush store on February 27 to celebrate the campaign, Out in Schools education director Brandon Yan told the Georgia Straight that his program helps to "ensure that our young people have access to representation and see themselves in their schools" and that the funds they receive from this campaign will go toward rural outreach initiatives.

      "It allows us to spend that extra money that we don't always have to travel to small communities," he said. "So this year, we are visiting the Kamloops area again, we're going into the Kootenays for the first time in a long time, we're doing some more work on the island [Vancouver Island] that we've never done before, and so for instance, this year we're finishing up some work in the Nanaimo school district where we actually visited every single school in that district—elementary and high school."

      Yan said there are a number of indications of what effect their presentations is having on B.C. communities.

      "We've seen a consistent trend where we'll visit a community and then maybe a couple of weeks later we'll get an email from a young person or parents saying that our visit, just to show trans and queer film in a classroom or in an auditorium really impacted them in a really positive way where it was just enough hope at the right time to keep them going in some aspects," he said. "It gets serious for lots of young queer and trans kids, especially in rural communities."

      He also said they've also seen an impact on education systems, such as seeing teachers learning about how to address gender diversity by avoiding things such as dividing classrooms into boys and girls.

      "They're aware that there some young people in that classroom who don't necessarily feel like a boy or feel like a girl, and there are other ways in which you can interact with your young people versus a category based on their bodies," he said.

      He added that Out in Schools has also provided expertise by working on policies with school districts so that they can meet the provincial government's sexual orientation and gender identity requirements.

      The UBC–based Stigma and resilience Among Vulnerable Youth Centre (SARAVYC) is currently conducting a study to determine what impact such presentations do have on youth. According to preliminary results from 113 schools, girls were found to be less likely to experience discrimination, the number of boys being bullied were cut almost in half, and overall bullying declined on a downward trend after subsequent visits by Out in Schools. (A full research brief will be available in a few months and the study is current available for peer review.) 

      Vancouver's Out on Screen, which also holds the annual Vancouver Queer Film Festival, runs Out in Schools. The program was launched in 2004 and has since reached 100,000 youth.