More than 1,000 students and educators from across the TDSB participated in the annual EnVision Conference in March which focused on honouring and celebrating 2SLGBTQIAP+ communities as well as issues faced across Ontario in relation to addressing homophobia and transphobia.
EnVision 2022 was a collaboration between the Equity, Anti-Racism and Anti-Oppression team, the Urban Indigenous Education Centre, the Centre of Excellence for Black Student Achievement, the TDSB GSA Network, the Gender-Based Violence Prevention Program Team and the Human Rights Office.
Over the course of two days, students were encouraged to ask questions and explore ways to celebrate gender and sexual diversity in schools and beyond.
The conference launches kicked off with the land acknowledgement, led by System Superintendent Tanya Senk followed by libations, an African-Caribbean ritual that offers a drink, in this case water, to ancestral spirits hosted by Jamea Zuberi, Vice-Principal of Market Lane and Downtown Alternative School.
This was followed by a moving speech by Dr. Andrew B. Campbell, Academic Coordinator and faculty member in the Master of Teaching (MT) Program at OISE, at the University of Toronto; which focused on Identity, Care and Activism.
“We can’t get away from who we are,” said Dr. Campbell before sharing that he was bullied by the boys in his school for self-identifying as gay and he highlighted the important role educators and allies play when supporting those in the 2SLGBTQIAP+ community.
Students also heard from 19-year-old trans rights activist Tru Wilson, who delved into her experience of transitioning with the support of her family. She talked about having a “summer of Trey” (her given name) where her parents let her dress however she wanted so she could be herself. She described it as freeing. “You’re perfect just the way you are. Believe that and never forget that,” she told students.
On the second day of the conference, students in Grades 6 to 8 had the added bonus of a live performance by the Toronto Kiki Ballroom Alliance (TKBA), an arts-based grassroots organization that provides LGBT+POC youth with opportunities and activities to build positive relationships and self-esteem.
The performance was a positive, high energy addition to the day, with performers from across Canada, showcasing the foundational moves for ballroom.
“The EnVision Conference is an invaluable event for affirming and co-creating conditions to support 2SLGBTQIAP+ students in equitable and anti-oppressive ways. This conference has always been about centring student voice to be able to transform classrooms and schools into sites of affirmation.” said conference co-lead and Centrally Assigned Principal Salima Kassam. “EnVision 2022 has been a valuable forum to share experiences, strategies and ideas to be able to support the TDSB to collectively carry this learning forward in classrooms across the TDSB.”
One student who attended the conference reinforced this by stating what they learned at the conference was that they are “not alone. I never really was one for participating in anything 2SLGBTQIA+ because I hadn’t really accepted myself and as I still work towards that I want to help other people too. I am also very eager to educate myself in this way rather than tweets or reddit and such. The keynotes alone did exactly as I thought and answered questions I didn’t even have yet.”