London Catholic school teens don 'love is love' shirts in support of LGBTQ community
Friday is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia
Pride flags will fly at all Thames Valley District School Board schools today to mark the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.
But at the London District Catholic School Board, where flags won't be flying despite a push from parents to do so, students are taking matters into their own hands.
At Notre Dame Catholic Elementary School, about two dozen kids will wear t-shirts with the words "Love is Love" to show their support for their LGBTQ peers.
"It's really cool. I'm really happy they're doing it because people will be more aware of the LGBTQ community and it would expose younger kids to that community, too," said Valeria Zambrano, 13, who is part of the LGBTQ community and attends Notre Dame.
She first started questioning her sexuality three years ago.
It took some time, but this year, Zambrano proudly came out as a lesbian to her class in a speech she had prepared.
"They really accepted me and it made me feel very happy and not alone anymore. They didn't treat me different," she said. "Notre Dame is a place where I feel very at home ... It felt like it's a safe place to tell them."
However, Zambrano admitted that ignorance existed beyond her school walls and that not everybody is as accepting as her friends and family.
That's why she hopes to raise awareness about the LGBTQ community through the "Love is love" t-shirts.
'Being gay or lesbian is OK'
It was Zambrano friend and classmate Jacob MacMaster's idea to wear the shirts to send a message of love and acceptance.
"It's to promote the idea that you can love whoever you want and that you shouldn't be judged for that. Some people will find that odd because they're not used to it but it's normal to love whoever you want and you should be accepted for who you are," he said.
With help from his mum, MacMaster ordered the shirts online and passed them out last week.
He told students to keep the shirts on during the school's community garage sale on Friday to help spread the message to more people.
"It's for the community to come and see the shirts while we are selling things," said Zambrano. "I believe they will see them and go home and start talking about it and it will keep spreading the word."
"It's letting more people know that this is OK, being gay or lesbian is OK, it makes me feel more relaxed," she added.
Both Zambrano and MacMaster say they're not wearing the t-shirts as a protest against their school board's stance about the pride flag, but rather to raise awareness for the LGBTQ community.
Pride flag sends a message of acceptance
Zambrano said some members of the LGBTQ continue to face stigma and discrimination. That's why it's important to feel supported, she said.
When asked about her school's stance on not raising the Pride flag, she said "it seems like they're saying we don't really support them or support the community, [including] me."
She said raising the flag would instead send this message: "We are here, we matter and this is OK. Whoever is closeted or worried that when they do come out they are going to be judged or shunned, that it's okay. Come join us," she said.
She hoped the show of support on Friday will raise awareness and help break barriers.