A high school student from Vanderhoof is using theater to spread awareness about the LGBTQ community in the District.
The play titled Awareness is written by Aleczander Blair, a student at Nechako Valley Secondary school.
“I have written this play because of the fact that I am gay, and I live in a small town of multiple churches and it is very tough to come out in this place. I have a few friends who are scared to come out and only I know about it,” Blair said.
”The play is an original story based on two gay guys in a school — there is violence, relationship drama and scenes based off true events that happen to people all over the world.”
He said he has gone through bullying and harassment throughout his life for being gay, in and out of school, and Vanderhoof is not a LGBTQ friendly community.
“I have actually gotten used to it now, and I try and find humour in it,” he said.
One incident he narrates is about profane comments yelled at him while he was going to the Vanderhoof library with his boyfriend and another male friend.
“We are just three guys walking down the street and this guy is following us yelling … And he kept getting closer until we walked into the library. We didn’t report it to the police because I didn’t turn around to see his face,” he said.
In terms of bullying or harassment at school, Blair said he has brought it up before but he didn’t get the result he was looking for. He said he feels anyone who harasses anybody else should be suspended.
“I would like for the school to find more ways to spread awareness, whether it is with presentations, speakers or any other way. The only thing we do right now is that we have little rainbow stickers that we put up in the drama room because the drama room is an LGBTQ safe space.”
“We put the sticker there so that people know that this is a safe space in the community and is open for everybody — if there is someone who is homophobic in there, our drama teacher gets really mad at them. She is like ‘get out of my class right now’,” he said.
However, the rainbow sticker has been ripped off by other students multiple times in the past, but the drama teacher keeps putting another back on.
Blair agreed that having a sidewalk painted with LGBTQ pride colours in the District would help people who are closeted and questioning to start talking about it more freely.
Vanderhoof Mayor Gerry Thiessen said that he hasn’t heard any concern from the LGBTQ community in his term of 10 years as mayor.
“So to me, this is concerning. There is no place in our community for people not accepting others into our community … The District stands definitely that everybody should feel totally secure and safe in the community. There is no excuse for anyone to be intimidated,” said Thiessen.
He agreed that if the LGBTQ community in the District had concerns, they could come share those concerns as a delegation to council. “Then that would be an avenue for people to hear what these issues are and what these concerns are, and it would certainly help us as council be more aware of what is appropriate for us to do in the future, and to be more understanding,” Thiessen said.
In terms of why Vanderhoof still doesn’t have a crosswalk painted in LGBTQ pride colors, he said the council has discussed it but haven’t had anyone in the community express interest in the rainbow crosswalk.
Meanwhile Ken Young, principal of NVSS, said that the community and the school have come a long way in accepting the LGBTQ community, but there is still work that needs to be done.
“The staff has moved a really long way and so has the community, but I do agree it’s difficult in small communities. Especially, [because] it’s not an urban centre and it can be very conservative with the church involved — across the board with different churches and different belief systems,” Young said.
He said sometimes people assume that being part of the church means they won’t be accepting to the LGBTQ community.
“But you are. It’s happened to me because I am part of a church and people think that I won’t be accepting — and I say no — I am fighting for the rights of the students, and I know it’s happened to some staff as well, where people just assume … I can only imagine how difficult it must be, and it must be scary and takes a lot of courage to go through the process as a young person,” Young said.
He said the school had a presentation last fall to increase awareness about the LGBTQ community and they are having another one in the next couple of weeks.
In terms of the kind of consequences students go through if they harass or bully, he said the whole idea is to keep the school safe and inclusive and if there is such a complaint, then a follow up is done and disciplinary actions are taken. He said there is no tolerance for bullying at all, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.
NVSS and School District 91 do have a Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) policy. The high school in Vanderhoof has a SOGI lead on their staff who provides teachers with resources and answers questions to aid teachers in making the school more LGBTQ friendly.
For Blair, he is sharing his experiences with the community through theater. Awareness is still in it’s nascent stage and will be performed either this year or when he is in grade 12, Blair said.