Nfld. & Labrador

Students to create "safe space" for LGBT community with Corner Brook conference

Hundreds of high school students from across the province gather in Corner Brook Friday to learn more about gender identity and inclusivity.

StandOut2 dedicated to promoting gender identity through workshops and presentations

Hannah Hepditch (left) and Liz Rowe say there is still a lot of bullying when it comes to sexuality and gender identity. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

About 230 provincial high school students, from Rigolet to St. John's, descend on Corner Brook Friday afternoon for a conference dedicated to creating an inclusive environment for people of all sexual identities.

"The conference allows some to share their personal stories. Someone can come out and share their identity. It's a fun, healthy environment," Liz Rowe, a conference presenter, told CBC News.

StandOut2 is the second such conference of its kind, offering workshops, guest speakers and presentations to anyone interested in the LGBT community this weekend at Corner Brook Regional High.

"It's such a nice environment. You meet a lot of new people, you learn so much," said Hannah Hepditch, returning this year as a presenter after attending the first StandOut conference two years ago.

The conference's theme focuses on love and kindness. (Twitter)

Bullying and backlash

One of the presentations on the weekend explains how students can start a gender sexual alliance at their schools.

"There could be some backlash from people. It's important to realize that not everyone is going to be accepting," said Rowe, the presenter.

Rowe prepares part of her presentation on creating a gender sexual alliance. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

"It's sad, but that is the reality. That is why you need a good group of support."

Hannah Hepditch agreed.

"There is bullying when it comes to sexuality and gender expression. So with this kind of group, you have so much more acceptance from your friends and teachers and making people more aware that these real issues," she said.

Rowe added such clubs used to be called 'gay-straight alliances', but the terminology has since changed to be more inclusive.

Dancing shoes

Rowe and Hepditch said the first StandOut conference decreased stigma for the LGBT community, and that they have high hopes for its second edition.

Besides gender alliances, students will also be able to learn about mental health, sexual health and issues surrounding consent during the conference, which runs from 3 p.m. Friday through to Saturday night.

Ty Smith, a director with Egale Canada, a non-profit group dedicated to LGBT human rights, will give the keynote presentation, Being Transgender.

The conference caps off with a formal supper and a queer prom Saturday night.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Colleen Connors reports on western Newfoundland from CBC's bureau in Corner Brook.

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