LGBT in B.C.: Out in Schools' Brandon Yan addresses resource inequity in rural areas

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      The stories are short. But they're powerful.

      Even though Brandon Yan has only been with Out in Schools since mid-January, he's already experienced what an impact the program can have on youth.

      Out in Schools is run by Out on Screen (which presents the Vancouver Queer Film Festival) dedicated to facilitating discussions about LGBT issues among youth.

      The Vancouver-born, Langley-raised Yan took over as program coordinator from Jen Sung, who is continuing on as facilitator. Last week, the dynamic duo traveled to the Gold Trail school district to make presentations at Ashcroft, Lillooet, and Kumsheen secondary schools over two days.

      "It was one of the first experiences where I've had young people come up and be brave enough to express their gratitude," Yan said by phone.

      Yan explained there's a notable difference between urban and rural school settings.

      "When we do presentations in Vancouver, young people tend to be saturated with all this content so Vancouver tends to be very well-positioned for a lot of resources and I think when we make an effort to go in rural communities, you definitely see a much more substantive impact."

      A visibly moved student gave Yan affirmation for the reasons why he does this work.

      "At Ashcroft, this young person came up to me afterwards and was almost on the verge of tears just wanting to thank us just for taking the time to go there and to do what we do."

      Yan said he finds such experiences empowering.

      "They're little, tiny stories that last all of, like, five minutes but for me, those are lasting memories I'll take with me...[as I] continue doing this work that I do."

      Like the short LGBT films that they screen at schools to serve as a "gateway" for discussion, these stories of gratitude represent tips of icebergs for many students feeling isolated or alone in rural areas where queer resources are limited or non-existent. That's something Out in Schools hopes to tackle.

      "One of our big pushes over the next few years," Yan said, "is to expand our presence in rural communities that don't have access to these kinds of resources and don't have access to real life queer people to tell their stories and I think that's one fantastic thing that I'm able to do is to even just be there to show that we exist, you're-not-alone type thing."

      Out in Schools is next planning to visit Haida Gwaii and Prince Rupert. Yan said they're also trying to hire regional facilitators, one in Smithers and one in Prince Rupert "so they have worked in the community so it's not like people from Vancouver coming all the time to tell them 'This is how it is'."

      They're also searching for an aboriginal facilitator to help serve areas in B.C. which have large aboriginal student populations.

      "It's not great to have someone come from outside your community and maybe from outside your culture to teach you things that might not be relevant," he said.

      Along with other local LGBT organizations, they're also helping a new LGBT organization, Safe 'n' Sound Squamish, get off the ground.

      But it's not just the rural front where Yan sees resource inequity. Most local LGBT organizations are concentrated in downtown Vancouver while more resources in suburban Vancouver are needed.

      He noted how a group in Surrey has been trying to organize youth LGBT conference for south of Fraser, including Surrey, Delta, and Langley, in response to demand.

      While Out in Schools focuses on high schools, another pressing issue Yan has observed is a growing demand for resources for even younger students.

      "What's happening in Vancouver is we're seeing a lot of people identify or coming out at a younger age….How do we create those resources for younger people? We focused a lot of resources on later high school years or even early university. So what will resources for young people in elementary schools look like?"

      In the meantime, Out in Schools is also working on uploading content from their teachers' resource guide to their website so it can be more readily available.

      Additionally, Out in School's Rise Against Homophobia Youth Short Video Contest is currently accepting videos from B.C. youth that challenge queerphobias or bullying. (The deadline is May 17.)

      The contest aligns with what Yan said what one of Out in School's missions is: to encourage youth to become media creators so they can tell their own stories.

      With Out in Schools reaching students in a variety of new areas throughout the province, there will undoubtedly be many more stories to be uncovered, told, and shared.

      This article is the fourth part of a series looking at new LGBT initiatives across British Columbia. See the sidebar for links to the other articles in the series.

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      Mar 24, 2015 at 3:54am

      Identity is a straight-jacket. Encouraging young people to adopt identities is unfortunate.

      Carmen Ranta

      Mar 24, 2015 at 9:46am

      It might be positive to include facilitators who have lived/grown up in rural/suburban areas in the project of reaching out. They could perhaps have significant insights that facilitators with mainly urban perspectives and experiences may not currently have.
      Gold Trail School District was the first Board of Education in BC to adopt a Gender Equity policy not requested from partners, but initiated by trustees. The board was featured in' X-Tra' publication during the time of policy consideration. It is important to note there were no objections to the policy adoption from any members of the public or community during the adoption of the policy. The policy received no objections from any district partners including parent groups, local communities, unions and trustees-which may not fit the rural stereotyping that this article seems to promote.