THUNDER BAY -- Serena Polenske knows there are people who are afraid to be themselves.
That’s why the Grade 11 student from Hammarskjold High School believes every school should have a Gay-Straight Alliance.
“I know lots of people that get teased about their sexuality and it really bothers me all the time,” said Serena, a member of her own school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. “I know a lot of people who are scared to come out and show their true colours.”
Serena joined a number of her classmates Wednesday to acknowledge the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, a celebration that will be officially observed globally this Saturday.
Students were given the opportunity during the lunch period to sign their name to the Ally Pledge bulletin board outside the school's cafeteria.
Teacher and Alliance facilitator Jennifer Smith said signing the pledge gives students a chance to tell the community that "they believe that everyone has the right to feel safe and accepted within our school regardless of their sexual orientation or their gender identity or expression."
Students signing the pledge are also expected adopt its values in their day-to-day behaviour, promising not to use homophobic slurs and to intervene if they can do so safely in situations where other students are being harassed.
Serena said she is excited to be with Alliance members and advertise what they do. She added that she loves the idea of the Ally Frame, which allowed students to take pictures and upload them to social media sites like Facebook and Instagram with hashtags promoting acceptance.
The Ally Frame was a new addition to the anti-homophobia event this year. Smith said Alliance members adopted the feature to "put out a positive message on social media, as opposed to all the negative stuff."
The bulletin board pledge, featuring the students’ signatures, will remain on display for the rest of the school year. Smith said the response to the Ally Pledge has been "fantastic" in the past.
Serena is also pleased with the response of her peers.
"People are getting comfortable with their sexuality," she says. "Ten years ago, no one was comfortable with it."
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