When it comes to teaching, Gavin Somers has assembled a unique recipe of film, language lessons, and open conversation. Somers is the program manager for Out in Schools, which travels around the province giving presentations in elementary and secondary schools about LGBT2SQ+ identities. Somers believes honesty and creativity are the key to fostering acceptance.
“The program really looks at the intersection of art and storytelling and the meaningful ways to create social change,” they say in a phone call to the Georgia Straight. “We’re exploring: how do we support people in having more than a surface-level conversation about these topics and go beyond just the 101?”
During its presentations, Out in Schools shows films and encourages discussions about what it’s like to be queer in order to create an inclusive space where kids can ask questions.
“We’ve got a team of facilitators with a variety of experiences, and while we’re talking about these issues, we’re also just presenting possibility models,” Somers says. “We’re presenting people who can share aspects of their experiences, aspects of their story, in ways that are really genuine and vulnerable—and that allows students and educators to ask questions that might not be appropriate to ask a stranger on the street, or your barista.”
The facilitators might discuss what it was like for them to come out, or what it means to identify as nonbinary or two-spirited or queer. The important thing is to open up a dialogue and help kids understand and relate to those experiences.
“I’ve had people come up to me afterwards and say, ‘Wow, I never got to see myself represented like that before.’ ”
In the five years that Somers has been with the program, it has seen strong support from the communities they’ve visited. Most students and teachers, they say, have been largely receptive to the discussion, which is heartening in the face of backlash they sometimes get from right-wing anti-SOGI groups.
“We just try to keep our head down and minimize it,” they say. “The more we feel it, the more it can feel like a big deal.”
Out in Schools has almost reached its goal of visiting every school district in the province, and Somers hopes that it will eventually expand its reach to a national level.
“The goal would be to continue to inspire that connection between art and social change,” they say. “Just being able to make that shift in a way that feels representative and reflective of the diversity that can exist in our classrooms.”