Students and school board officials celebrate the raising of the pride and transgender flags at the Thames Valley District School Board office on Dundas St., April 19, 2017. (Photo by Miranda Chant, Blackburn News.)

Pride, Transgender Flags Raised At TVDSB Office

Deafening cheers and a thunder of applause could be heard as the pride and transgender flags were raised above the Thames Valley District School Board office on Dundas St. Wednesday.

More than 250 students from 28 area schools crowded around the flagpole over the lunch hour to add the splash of colour to the grey skies. It’s the first time both flags have been raised at the school board office as part of the annual Pride Conference.

The conference, now in its 11th year, promotes inclusive and safe spaces for all, regardless of sexual or gender identity.

“Being scared of the community that I was in, to being in a room full of people that I know I’m safe with means the world to me,” said Riley Hamilton, an openly gay Grade 12 student at College Avenue Secondary School in Woodstock. “It shows the progression that we are experiencing. It shows that, even though there are still negatives happening around the world, in our community we are at least moving forward.”

Hamilton shared his story of coming to terms with his sexuality as part of the conference’s keynote address.

“It was a very difficult process,” said Hamilton. “It started off with a lot of denial, a lot of internalizing the thoughts of my peers and their beliefs of what it meant to be LGBT. From there I was able to be more comfortable with who I was and I was able to come out around Grade 10.”

Hamilton said the decision to come out in high school instead of waiting until he got to university has made his final high school years much more enjoyable.

“After I came out it actually kind of seemed like the bullying stopped,” said Hamilton. “Me accepting it for myself and showing it as I’m not afraid to be who I am anymore, it really stopped the attacks from other people.”

Matthew Sereda, the safe schools learning coordinator for TVDSB, stressed that sharing stories like Hamilton’s and creating a support net for other gay or transgender students is the reason behind the conference.

“It really provides students with an ability to be surrounded by peers that are going through similar moments in life.,” said Sereda. “Coming out can be a journey for everybody and I think it’s nice to be able to come to a space where other people have shared a similar journey. It’s a wonderful day where staff members and students celebrate who they are and feel they are part of a school board that celebrates that with them”

Several community groups and organizations, including Pride London, London Inter-Community Health, Queer Events, the Canadian Mental Health Association , and London police were also on hand to talk to students.

“As a school board, we understand that we are only one part of a student’s journey. So it’s nice when they come to our conference to also know that there are supportive community organizations that they can look to for support as well,” said Sereda.

The pride and transgender flags will continue to fly above the TVDSB office until further notice.