Jessica Fisher brings message that 'however people identify is beautiful' to Sask. schools
Saskatoon woman educates students, teachers, administrators about gender and sexual diversity
"My name is Jessica Fisher and I am a cisgender, queer woman who is both Métis and a settler."
That is how Jessica Fisher introduces herself to elementary and high school students in Saskatoon and around the province.
Fisher works with OUTSaskatoon, bringing gender and sexual diversity education to students, teachers and administrators. She does this by explaining the building blocks of identity, what terms like bisexual and transgender mean, and highlighting the negative impacts of homophobia.
"The purpose of my presentation is to help folks understand that their language and their actions have consequences. That can be positive, where people feel comfortable to say and be who they are, or they can be negative consequences — that is, when people are afraid to exist in the world as they are."
Fisher, who is also the co-ordinator for the LGBT organization Camp fYrefly Saskatchewan, understands how that fear feels. She grew up in Martensville, Sask., knowing that she didn't fit into traditionally prescribed gender and sexuality roles. It wasn't until her studies at the University of Saskatchewan that she discovered the term pansexual (when a person does not limit their relationships with regard to biological sex, gender or gender identity) and became truly comfortable with her identity.
"I had known for a very long time that I wasn't straight, but I didn't know what I was. And so I didn't feel like I was allowed to talk about it," said Fisher. "When I heard that term, all of a sudden it made sense why I was into Archie Comics — not for Archie, but for Betty and Veronica."
In every presentation, Fisher reveals herself as pansexual to the students. It's not only a way to share her own story with the class, but it helps put students at ease about subjects that might be uncomfortable to them.
In elementary schools, Fisher focuses on the basics of gender, sexuality and consent. In high school settings, she explores LGBT issues in greater depth.
Students are not the only audience for Fisher's presentations. Teachers, administrators and school superintendents have heard her speak throughout the province.
OUTSaskatoon executive director Rachel Loewen Walker said that's important because "oftentimes policy changes, and the kinds of policy changes that are really needed, have to come from the principals or the superintendents. We have to work with those administrators to ensure that the longer-term policy changes are also part of the process."
Walker noted gender inclusive bathrooms as one example.
Fisher thinks there is still a long ways to go in Saskatchewan when it comes to gender and sexual diversity education, but she is encouraged to see many teachers taking leadership roles in their schools.
She is proud of how her high school presentations have elicited some powerful responses from students.
"Some of my biggest accomplishments are after the presentation, having a student come up to me and say, 'Wow, I understand my identity now for the first time, and I'm going to go home and tell my family.'"
She added that "A really big takeaway message from my presentation is there's no wrong way to be a human. So however people identify is beautiful because there's only one of them, and the greatest gift you can give the world is to be your authentic self … whatever that is."
This article is based on an episode of YXE Underground. It's a podcast focusing on people in Saskatoon who are making a difference in the community but are not receiving the attention they deserve in social or mainstream media. You can listen to YXE Underground here. You can also download episodes on iTunes or the podcast app of your choice.