Queer in the Classroom: An Interview with the Student Who Is Filling up the Education Gap With Rainbow Dialogue

 

I met Kelly Vernon when I was in first year. We were both in Tower residence and taking gender studies electives. My first impression of him was that he was quick with his wit, charming and optimistic.

While we’re in different programs—Kelly in education and I in creative writing—we’ve always kept in touch and had warm regards for each other. When Kelly reached out to me in the spring about his first ever workshop about LGBTQ+ classroom inclusivity, I was thrilled and immensely proud to call him a friend. Kelly saw a gap in the education program: discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity were not being made a priority in the curriculum. In response, Kelly created Queer in the Classroom, which will be run for the third time on November 24th.

I could tell you all about it and rave more about my friend Kelly, but I’ll let you hear from him directly.

 

HC: Hey, Kell. Can you tell our readers a little bit about yourself?

It’s funny: I am the type of person that will pour my heart out to anyone, so for the sake of this platform, I will keep it brief. I am currently a fourth-year Bachelor of Education student who is graduating this spring to become a fully certified elementary school teacher. I grew up in a smaller town in the Okanagan where I had a pretty positive upbringing. When I moved to the University of Victoria, I decided to live authentically as an out gay man. I enjoy walks along the beach, dancing to music and ensuring a safe space for queer students within the classroom.

 

 

HC: What is Queer in the Classroom and what can people expect to learn from it?

Queer in the Classroom was born out of the need to answer all of the extremely valid questions I was getting asked by my friends. As the token gay guy in my peer group of pre-teachers, I was often the one to talk to when people had queer-related questions. Questions like: How do I actually create the elusive “safe space”? How do I properly address homophobic bullying? How do I support a trans student? Do I legally have to tell the parents if a student comes out to me? And so on. My workshop aims at a practical approach to dealing with queer topics. We won’t just talk about these things like they may or may not happen. We will role play parents who disagree with inclusion education, examine British Columbia Teacher Federation resources and take a fun Kahoot! quiz to self-examine where we are at with our knowledge. No matter what, I am bringing my queer kids books and it’s going to be a fun time.

 

HC: I find it so interesting that, when I first met you, you were already taking the initiative as a first year to discuss LGBTQ+ matters and move forward the dialogue about inclusivity in UVic residences. Can you tell me a bit about that initial initiative and how it led to this workshop?

During my first year, I saw an amazing opportunity to create a learning and discussion platform around the the new show Gaycation starring Ellen Page. The show had Ellen Page travel around the world to different countries and learn what it was like to be part of the queer community there. I was so excited for the show and wished I could share my passion and this great learning opportunity with others. Therefore, I created a recurring event titled “Gaycation: a Multi-Media Event,” where I invited my peers to crowd my residence’s common room and learn. I went through all the proper channels and got it backed by the university, who supplied some cash for snacks. Each week, I would research and speak on a queer topic for 15 minutes or so, then we would watch the episode, followed by facilitated discussion afterwards. My topics included internalized homophobia, coming out, Christianity and homosexuality, as well as information on Harvey Milk. It was such an amazing event and many tears were shed. This went on for several weeks and it brought me so much joy to be able to create a space to talk openly and answer questions my friends were always too afraid to ask.

 

 

HC: Why do these conversations matter, specifically in relation to the education program at UVic?

These conversations matter because 74 percent of new educators said they received no formal instruction on whether to address LGBTQ issues (2015, Every Teacher Project Final Report, page 138). They matter because it is the teacher’s job to ensure that students have a safe nurturing environment to learn in. They matter because some parents are still calling inclusive education “brainwashing.” I have seen some amazing new developments on this subject at UVic. However, I still have yet to be formally instructed on sexual orientation or gender identity issues.

 

HC: Where can people sign up to register and are there other resources people can refer to in order to further educate themselves?

To register, please email [email protected] with any dietary needs. There are tons of resources out there for teachers—you just need to go searching. In the past, I have made my Google Drive folder available to the participants of the event, and I believe I will continue to do so. I have simply collected some resources from the BCTF website as well as SOGI 123 and some other organizations.

 

HC: So, what’s the next step for you and this workshop?

Well, when I was asked to do this workshop again, I was actually asked to present it in the fall and the spring as well. Therefore, I look forward to doing this again in the spring if the need is still there. As for my future, I am extremely passionate about this. Just being able to present this workshop more than once is a dream come true. I will work to integrate this knowledge and passion for LGBTQ+ inclusion into my teaching practice.

 

For more information, here is a list of recommended resources from Kelly:

To register for this free workshop on November 24th, Queer in the Classroom, email [email protected] expressing your interest and info about any dietary restrictions.

Can’t wait to see you there!