Catholic school board celebrates gay-straight alliances

Members of gay-straight alliances at area catholic schools got together at Holy Names high school to learn from guest speakers and celebrate progress.

Speakers talked about struggles and successes of living as members of the LGBT community

Spoken word artist Jenna Tenn Yuk, takes a group selfie with students during WEShine, a Gay-Straight Alliance celebration at Holy Names Catholic High School. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Jenna Tenn Yuk was driving down Highway 401 with her parents when she told them she is gay.

A busy highway wasn't the ideal time, or place, to come out, she told students at a gay-straight alliance celebration held at Holy Names Catholic High School on Friday, but it started her journey of accepting who she was.

Jenna Tenn Yuk tells students at the WEShine event about coming out to her parents.The spoken word artist also recited some of her poetry and answered student questions. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

The spoken word artist shared her story during the first ever WEShine event, encouraging others to do the same.

Eli Marentette, a former St. Thomas of Villanova student and member of the LGBT community, also got on stage to talk about his experience. He shared a message of support and hope for students still trying to figure out who they are.

"You are going to find people who accept you and love you for who you are," he said.

Gay-straight alliances have only been in area catholic schools since 2013, a change Marentette said is important.

"There are a lot of LGBT community members who are people of faith," he said. "I think it's important to show support so people are free to be who they are, but also continue their journey in faith."

Eli Marentette and Danielle Desjardins-Koloff share a laugh during the WEShine celebration at Holy Names Catholic High School on March 3. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

The move towards a more accepting school system, and showing love for all, is an important aspect of faith, explained Danille Desjardins-Koloff, board principal of safe schools.

"As Catholics we live God's love. Our goal is to uphold the dignity of every human being," she said.

Desjardins-Koloff applauded the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board for becoming a provincial leader in supporting LGBT students.

"We've come a really long way," she said. "As an educator you want kids to be themselves, be proud of themselves and to feel happiness."

Richie, a Grade 9 student at Holy Names, said Gay-Straight Alliances give students a place to feel accepted at school. (Dan Taekema/CBC)

Richie, a Grade 9 student who identifies as pansexual, said the celebration was an opportunity for students to see friends from other schools and to celebrate their love for one another.

"It's a very heartwarming thing to know you can have a GSA and feel like you belong somewhere," he said.