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Why Did the Teachers Union Tear Down LGBTQ2S+ Student Posters at Britannia?

Questions remain. But there’s much to be learned from the dust-up.

Katie Hyslop 2 Jun 2022TheTyee.ca

Katie Hyslop is a reporter for The Tyee. Reach them at khyslop@thetyee.ca.

When Frieda Mestinsek arrived at Vancouver’s Britannia Secondary School on Feb. 10, she didn’t notice that the posters were missing.

Just two days before, Mestinsek, a pansexual Grade 12 student, had joined other LGBTQ2S+ students in putting up posters supporting the addition of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, or SOGI, representatives to Britannia’s student council.

The posters had a QR code that took anyone with a smartphone to an online petition supporting SOGI representation. A little pastel rainbow unicorn sat on the posters’ bottom right corner — while the students’ goal was serious, their mood was celebratory.

Britannia’s student government was set to vote on a proposal to add at least two SOGI representatives to council later that month. Members of the school’s Sexuality and Gender Acceptance Alliance, including Mestinsek, hoped the petition would persuade the student council to vote yes.

When Mestinsek met up that morning with a friend who’d helped put up the posters, however, her friend told her the posters had been removed by the Vancouver School Board.

But the truth was much different. And the fallout over the next four months sparked debates within the district about support for Black and Indigenous students and other students of colour, as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and Two-Spirit, or LGBTQ2S+ students — and within the union representing Vancouver high school teachers and the BC Teachers' Federation itself.

Undeterred — and unaware of who had really removed the posters — the students created a much larger hand-lettered poster with “The VSB will not silence SOGI voices” across the top. Another alliance member brought their printer from home so they could recreate the posters that had been removed, as well as new posters outlining their mistaken belief the district had removed their posters.

Both sets of posters quickly went up around the school. The large hand-lettered poster was put up in Britannia Secondary’s central hallway, where it remains to this day.

The district said it knew nothing about the poster removal. By the end of the day, all the school administration could tell alliance members was that the Vancouver School Board had not been involved.

Instead, it was the second vice-president of the Vancouver Secondary Teachers’ Association, Alyssa Reid, who removed the posters. The association is the BCTF local representing high school teachers in the district.

On Feb. 15, the teachers’ local accepted responsibility and apologized to the Alliance membership. Association president Treena Goolieff wrote that the union’s “actions were based on an incomplete understanding of the situation at Britannia Secondary.” The union still isn’t answering questions about why it took down the students’ posters.

But the “situation” at Britannia Secondary didn’t start or end with posters supporting SOGI seats on the student council.

Instead, it began months earlier, when Khai Truong, a queer Grade 12 student of colour and student council member, requested the addition of four seats to student council to better represent LGBTQ2S+ students and students of colour at the school.

The student council has two teacher sponsors who supervise and provide support to the student council. They met with students to discuss the proposal. Truong says he was told that sexuality is “private” in the meetings; that white privilege is a myth because some white people experience classism; and that asking only self-identified Indigenous students to vote for the Indigenous council reps would be akin to “creating a reserve within the school.”

The dust-up at Britannia, previously reported on by CityNews, has also raised deeper questions about what’s going on behind the scenes at the Vancouver Secondary Teachers’ Association.

Despite a motion brought forward by members asking Reid to resign from the union executive, she remains second vice-president until the end of June. A new president and second vice-president for the 2022-23 school year were elected at the union’s May 17 Annual General Meeting — Reid did not run for re-election, but Terry Stanway, first vice-president in the 2021-22 school year, was elected association president for 2022-23. Goolieff will also remain on the executive, to serve as past president.

The Tyee spoke to four VSTA members, including a Britannia teacher, who said Reid’s actions at Britannia aren’t the only time the union’s executive has engaged in questionable conduct.

This conduct, members allege, has included opposition to creating an LGBTQ2S+ sub-committee within the local committee. The union, they say, also hired an outside anti-racism educator to train teachers who has compared LGBTQ2S+ advocates to members of the QAnon cult on Twitter.

'This more insidious ideological form of oppression'

In mid-October 2021, Truong approached Britannia student council’s two teacher sponsors with the idea for adding SOGI and Black, Indigenous and people of colour representatives to the council, elected solely by students who self-identified as LGBTQ2S+ and/or BIPOC. He also wanted to start a council conversation about whether the existing Indigenous representatives on council should similarly be elected through votes cast only by self-identified Indigenous students.

The proposal was to add new bylaws, which would have been preceded by a motion to council two weeks in advance of a vote. If 60 per cent of council members voted in favour of the new bylaws, the motion would pass and the bylaw would be adopted — relatively simple.

But that’s not how it played out for Truong and his fellow council members who supported the ideas.

According to Truong, the teacher sponsors, who we will refer to as Teacher 1 and Teacher 2, repeatedly questioned whether these “political” and “ideological” proposals were the students’ alone, or if they were put up to it by the “radical” teachers who sponsor Britannia’s Sexuality and Gender Acceptance Alliance and BIPOC student clubs (Truong is a member of both). Truong also alleges one of the teacher sponsors made a variety of questionable statements at the meetings, including likening his voting suggestions to “apartheid.” (The Tyee is choosing not to name these teachers, as they have undergone a complaint process with the school district.)

The teacher sponsors dissuaded students from bringing their ideas to council, instead saying they must take them to the school administration first. But when the students tried to set up the meetings, Truong says Teacher 2 tried to derail them — twice.

In February, the student council finally voted in favour of adding two SOGI reps, and in April they added a referendum question in their spring election asking self-identified Indigenous students to decide if they should solely be responsible for electing Indigenous representatives. But it took four months of Truong and his peers pushing for the permission just to discuss these ideas with the rest of student council.

“They faced a lot of systemic barriers, which often happen when you're fighting for equity. So I think that was hard for them to deal with,” said a Britannia teacher, who requested anonymity out of concern of reprisal for speaking to media from the teachers’ union and their employer.

And when the posters disappeared just two days after Truong had introduced a motion for adding SOGI representatives at council for the first time, the students were crushed.

“Britannia has been really great in that I think it really is accepting and progressive,” Truong said.

But the situation revealed to Truong that behind the scenes, in particular when it comes to fighting for institutional change, there’s still work to be done.

'The school culture needs to change'

The Vancouver School Board has a reputation for supporting and celebrating LGBTQ2S+ youth.

In 2014 the district led the province when it updated its SOGI policy. It was a contentious fight, where LGBTQ2S+ students, parents and their allies who supported letting students define their gender and decide which washroom to use squared off against ideologically opposed parents and community members who insisted being transgender was a mental illness (it’s not).

Ultimately the district was successful in updating its policy, which also includes the right to safe and respected representation of LGBTQ2S+ people in curriculum and district schools, and committing the district to rooting out any discriminatory behaviour or harassment.

Since the beginning of 2017, all B.C. districts and independent schools have been required to include references to gender and sexual orientation in their anti-bullying policies.

However a recent national EGALE Canada survey found homophobic and transphobic language use was rampant in schools. While most students did not disclose these incidents to school authorities, those who did report found nothing was done.

More locally, the 2018 BC Adolescent Health Survey found queer students were more likely than their peers to miss a day of school due to bullying, be discriminated against, miss out on extracurricular activities and be physically attacked on their way to or from school.

And while Britannia had a strong reputation for supporting LGBTQ2S+ students, by fall 2021 some say they didn’t feel represented or respected at school.

Efforts to co-ordinate Pride month celebrations the previous June between the Sexuality and Gender Acceptance Alliance and the student council had fallen flat, for example.

Mestinsek, Truong and the other alliance members wanted to make sure that didn’t happen again.

“The allyship was not there,” said Mestinsek of the council's relationship with the student club in the 2020-21 school year.

But Truong did believe in the power of the student council, and so together with Mestinsek they brought their idea of adding SOGI representatives on council, like they have at Aldergrove Community Secondary School in Langley, to an alliance meeting last fall.

Buoyed by the support of his fellow alliance members, Truong brought the idea to the student council sponsor teachers along with an idea for BIPOC representatives, which Aldergrove Secondary also has.

Truong was also curious about whether they could improve Indigenous students’ involvement with student council by changing the way Indigenous representatives were elected.

Up to that point Indigenous representatives were voted on by the incoming council’s grade representatives — up to three students for each of the school’s five grades — who are elected to council by students in their respective grades.

Out of the approximately 600 students at Britannia, 140 self-identify as Indigenous, including 50 students in the alternate programs at the school, Outreach, which is specifically designed for Indigenous students but also welcomes non-Indigenous students, and Streetfront.

It can be difficult for student council to connect with students in the alternative programs, Kiera Yeomans, a Grade 12 student and one of two Indigenous reps on council, told The Tyee.

Yeomans, who is Tsimshian, Haida and Nisga’a, is one of only three Indigenous students out of the 26 students on the current council. Yeomans supported the idea of changing the election system to foster more Indigenous engagement.

“It just felt wrong,” they said of the system where non-Indigenous students elected Indigenous reps. (Yeomans uses both they and she, preferring a mix of these pronouns.)

Truong’s suggestion, to ask only self-identified Indigenous students of all grades to vote for these positions, is how Carson Graham Secondary student council in North Vancouver handles the elections of these seats.

Truong also wanted to get input from the school’s Indigenous education department and Indigenous students themselves before the council made any changes.

But when Truong brought these ideas to the council executive meetings in October and November, he says both teacher sponsors were resistant.

Truong alleges the teacher sponsors called him “disrespectful” for bringing his ideas to the alliance membership first, and accused him of setting the school administration up to look homophobic by raising the idea of SOGI representatives with other students before the administration could weigh in.

The teacher sponsors also rejected the BIPOC representative and Indigenous voting ideas, according to Truong.

And while both teachers said they did not oppose SOGI reps in principle, they opposed the students' plan for requesting only self-identified LGBTQ2S+ students vote for those reps, arguing that asking only self-identified students to vote for these positions would “out” closeted queer and trans students, making them unsafe in school.

That didn’t make sense to the council executive, as every student who voted would receive the same ballot, and voting would be anonymous. While they hoped only self-identified LGBTQ2S+ and BIPOC students would vote for those reps as requested, there was no way of determining who voted for what on the anonymous ballots.

In an interview with The Tyee, Kristopher Wells, the Canada Research Chair for the Public Understanding of Sexual and Gender Minority Youth and a professor at MacEwan University in Edmonton, said he is not surprised the teachers’ backlash was couched in concern for LGBTQ2S+ students.

It’s the same argument schools have made against student Gay Straight Alliance clubs, he said.

“It's incredibly demoralizing and frustrating for students who just want to be themselves, who want to move these issues forward,” Wells said.

“The school needs to find a way to make these situations safe, not to dissuade the students because they're not the problem. It's the school culture that's the problem. And the school culture needs to change.”

A voluntary survey conducted by the ARC Foundation in B.C. found in 2021 that the percentage of schools with alliances is increasing, with over 95 per cent of responding secondary schools reporting an alliance. The EGALE Canada survey found 82 per cent of the British Columbia students who responded had an alliance or similar LGBTQ2S+ supporting club at their school.

‘A breath of fresh air’

By early November Britannia’s student council teacher sponsors told the students they must present their ideas to principal Alec MacInnes and vice-principal Karen Blake before taking them to the student council.

But when the students tried to set up a meeting with the administrators and their teacher sponsors, Teacher 2 responded that neither sponsor would be available until at least January.

The students ended up meeting with MacInnes and Blake alone. The administrators raised similar concerns around Truong’s voting proposals, but said they would reach out to Chas Desjarlais, district vice-principal of Indigenous education, and Deena Kotak-Buckley, director of instruction for safe and caring schools at the district about meeting with the students.

The students also raised their concerns about their teacher sponsors’ conduct with Blake and MacInnes, who took the concerns to the district. According to Truong, the administrators agreed Blake would join council executive meetings with their teacher sponsors from then on.

That same week, Teacher 1, who had been involved with student council since she was a Britannia student over 20 years ago, resigned as a teacher sponsor.

In December the student council executive passed responsibility for exploring the SOGI representatives and Indigenous representatives election idea to the council’s newly formed constitution committee, which also included Truong.

And the district began an investigation into both teacher sponsors based on the students’ complaints.

Before the month was out, however, Teacher 2 was the subject of another complaint.

The students had arranged for a meeting with Desjaralais and Kotak-Buckley on Dec. 17, the last day of school before winter break. It was also the last day of the student council’s Spirit Week.

Teacher 2 was not invited. But less than an hour before the meeting she sent a group message to the constitution committee that named Truong.

She wrote that meeting during Spirit Week was “supremely inappropriate,” the urgency was “manufactured,” and the students should prioritize attending a Christmas-themed obstacle course in the school gym.

Teacher 2 also reached out to MacInnes to complain. MacInnes postponed the meeting until the new year.

When the students pushed back, MacInnes compromised after consulting Teacher 2: the meeting would be held later that day during class time, and the students were to attend the Spirit Week event.

The meeting between the students, Desjarlais and Kotak-Buckley was the first time the students received encouraging feedback and support for their ideas, Truong said.

“Our meeting with them was a breath of fresh air,” he said.

In an emailed statement to The Tyee, school district communications said the district’s involvement was always supportive.

But the students didn’t understand why these ideas had to be approved by anyone before the rest of Britannia’s student council could hear them.

“It came to feel more like keeping tabs on us or making sure that we were acting in line with the district,” Truong said.

'It’s an equity issue'

In January, the constitution committee received apologies from MacInnes and Blake regarding how the Dec. 17 meeting was handled. But not from Teacher 2.

On Jan. 25, the constitution committee again met with Kotak-Buckley, and also Lynda Bonvillain, district vice-principal of educational services, and students from the Vancouver District Students’ Council, to discuss their ideas.

Bonvillain and the district council reps raised concerns, including that SOGI reps and the LGBTQ2S+ students voting for them would be “outed,” and that it could be considered discrimination against non-Indigenous, heterosexual and cis students if they were prevented from voting for the Indigenous and SOGI representatives.

Indigenous representative Yeomans, who was also a member of the constitution committee, found the meeting frustrating.

Many of the questions lobbed at the students had been answered in the documentation students sent the district before they met, she said, and answered in previous meetings with administration and district officials.

“It got really repetitive,” Yeomans said.

Nevertheless, days later Blake told Truong he was free to present his idea for SOGI representatives to the student council. He introduced his motion, which passed, during the council's lunchtime meeting on Feb. 7.

That same afternoon, Truong had class with Teacher 2, during which he says she asked to speak to him in the hallway.

It was there Teacher 2 revealed she knew Truong had reported her conduct to the school district — information she was not supposed to have.

“When we have been harmed by people, and we are expected to just go into the classroom, interact with the teacher and pretend that everything is fine, when it's not. And the expectation is on us to be professional, to get over it or put it aside. It's just ridiculous,” Truong told The Tyee.

“No student should be forced into a room, a situation or interaction where they don't feel safe.”

Truong said Teacher 2 spoke to him that day in the hall “like I was delusional and I needed help because I was mentally ill,” and told him he should be seeing a counsellor.

Truong reported his encounter with Teacher 2 to the school district the following day, Feb. 8. That same day members of the Sexuality and Gender Acceptance Alliance student club put up posters in the halls supporting the addition of SOGI reps.

Teacher 2 did not come to school on Feb. 8 and would not return to Britannia until March 28. Truong has since been transferred to the supervision of a teacher at another school for assessment.

On Feb. 9, Teacher 2 messaged the student council that she was stepping down as teacher sponsor.

That day, after school, Reid of the Vancouver Secondary Teachers’ Association entered Britannia and removed the students’ posters.

The Tyee requested an interview with Reid and Treena Goolieff, president of the association. In response, they sent The Tyee an emailed statement where they acknowledged removing the posters.

“The VSTA Table Officers want to restate our commitment to diversity and want to ensure queer and trans students feel safe in our schools. We are deeply regretful of the error of our action,” the statement read, referring to the president and two vice-presidents.

No one who spoke to The Tyee knows why the Vancouver Secondary Teachers’ Association’s president and second vice-president decided to remove the posters.*

Even Barb Parrott, the Vancouver school trustee assigned to liaise with Britannia elementary and secondary schools, and who supports the idea of SOGI reps on council, hasn’t been given an answer.

“I’m just so impressed by these kids,” she said, adding the district student council would also benefit from having SOGI reps. “It’s an equity issue.”

Truong’s theory is that the VSTA may have thought the posters implied, or publicized, the existence of the behind-the-scenes debate that had been taking place between the students and their teacher sponsors.

Goolieff, VSTA president, subsequently sent apologies to the student council, which had no involvement with the posters, as well as alliance members.

Tensions at the Vancouver Secondary Teachers' Association

Teachers at Britannia and across the district have been trying to find out why Reid removed the posters since Feb. 10.

“Our staff are horrified,” one Britannia teacher told The Tyee, adding that teachers at the high school wrote a letter to VSTA calling for Reid’s resignation after the posters were removed.

The letter, which was also sent to every secondary school union representative, was signed by 32 of Britannia’s 41 teachers.

Then the Vancouver Secondary Teachers' Association’s LGBTQ2S+ ad hoc committee passed a motion at their meeting to calling on Reid to step down as second vice-president.

The Vancouver Secondary Teachers’ Association's executive committee, whose 2021-22 membership included Teacher 1, held their own meeting that week to discuss these motions. But they went “in committee,” meaning no notes were taken and nothing discussed was shared outside of the room except that Reid refused to resign.

At a Feb. 24 union council meeting, which included representatives from each district high school, members learned the president and two vice-presidents had been aware ahead of time that Reid planned to take down the posters.

At this meeting, members passed a motion requiring the association executive undergo sexual orientation and gender identity awareness training, as well as advocate with the school district on LGBTQ2S+ students’ behalf.

But another motion demanding the executive be transparent about what led up to the poster removal did not pass. While Reid and Goolieff did take questions from members about their decision to remove the posters, the discussion was cut short when someone noted the meeting had gone overtime.

An online petition calling for a general meeting where VSTA members could finish the discussion about the poster removal received support from 11 out of 19 schools, enough to trigger a general meeting held March 29. There the LGBTQ2S+ ad hoc committee’s motion to force Reid to resign was on the agenda.

However, because the motion required 75 per cent of members to vote in favour of forcing Reid to resign, the committee withdrew their motion as the threshold for success was too high.

Sources told The Tyee the general meeting did not provide answers about what led to Reid removing the posters.

Two other motions were passed, however. One called for the BC Teachers' Federation, the provincial teachers union, to conduct its own investigation into the poster removal, and the other required annual anti-oppression training for the VSTA executive, including one session before the end of this school year.

Earlier that same day the teachers’ association participated in a mediated discussion with 14 Britannia teachers. The union told The Tyee they’ve asked the school district to facilitate a similar discussion with Britannia’s students.

“We recognize the impact of our actions, and we are taking steps to rebuild trust and learn from these mistakes,” Reid and Goolieff’s emailed statement to The Tyee read.

Of the four teachers’ association members who spoke to The Tyee, three refused to be quoted, citing potential repercussions from the union. But they said the removal of the posters is part of a pattern indicating the union executive has been reluctant to implement justice-related changes supported by LGBTQ2S+, BIPOC and allied teachers.

In 2020, for example, sources say the Vancouver Secondary Teachers’ Association executive refused to speak against the School Liaison Officer program, despite a district-wide survey showing half of Indigenous and almost two-thirds of Black respondents had negative views of the program. Those who opposed the program, which saw members of the Vancouver Police Department assigned to schools in the district, cited everything from anxiety in the presence of police to harassment and assault by liaison officers.

The VSTA membership forced the union executive to support the removal of these officers through a general membership vote in December 2020.

That spring, the union’s BIPOC and LGBTQ2S+ committees also faced difficulties.

The association’s BIPOC representative at the time — Teacher 1, from Britannia — submitted a report in June 2021 recommending the BIPOC committee be discontinued because they could not agree on a terms of reference and no “actionable” complaints had been introduced.

The report concluded “the employer is not discriminating against BIPOC members in a way that would be considered an infringement of the Collective Agreement.” Instead she recommended the union hold two issues sessions for members to discuss racism. So far none have been held.

The union executive also called for an issues session to be held specifically to discuss why an LGBTQ2S+ committee was necessary.

While the executive members asked a lot of questions at the issues session, The Tyee was told, they refused to hold a vote on the committee’s creation. Instead the general membership passed a motion forcing a vote on the committee, which was held in June 2021 and passed.

Finally in November 2021, VSTA hired Irshad Manji as the staff union rep training anti-racism speaker, at a cost of US$10,000 that was split with the school district. Sources told The Tyee the provincial teachers’ union had anti-racism trainers they could have used for free, who don’t have a history of making polarizing statements.

Manji is a controversial Canadian educator and journalist now based in the U.S. In the last year alone, she has written tweets equating LGBTQ2S+ activists with QAnon believers and told Canadians to “have a not self-loathing #CanadaDay2021” after more subdued or cancelled celebrations occurred following the discovery of hundreds of unmarked graves at former residential schools.

In an email response to The Tyee, Manji wrote that she preferred to engage with her critics directly rather than respond to media questions.

“If my detractors continue to reject dialogue, they're forfeiting the opportunity to have tangible impact. What example does that set for today's students? I'm ready to listen and learn,” she wrote.

‘That’s such a good idea’

The Britannia student council voted in favour of the SOGI representatives on Feb. 23. Two interim SOGI reps have been appointed.

At Blake’s suggestion, council executive elections held April 14 included a referendum question asking self-identified Indigenous students if they were in favour of electing Indigenous representatives this way from now on. Nearly 80 per cent of the 133 students who self-identified as Indigenous voted yes.

Though the outcomes at Britannia may look like a win for the students, they say the time and effort it took does not feel like a win. Nor do the students feel fully supported by school administration or the district in the wake of the poster removal.

The Tyee requested interviews with MacInnes and Blake, as well as district employees Chas Desjarlais, Deena Kotak-Buckley, Lynda Bonvillain and former council teacher sponsors Teacher 1 and Teacher 2. None were granted.

The Tyee also provided a detailed account of facts from our sources to all implicated district and Britannia employees, as well as the Vancouver School Board, association president Goolieff and second vice-president Reid.

Only district communications and Reid responded.

“Aspects of the information you have shared in your email are inaccurate, incomplete and/or out of context,” Reid wrote via email.

The Vancouver School Board stated that it was unable to comment on specific employees or students for privacy reasons. “That said, we are able to say that the ‘facts’ you present in your email are incomplete and inaccurate,” a VSB email reads, adding students and staff were encouraged to resolve issues directly with the district.

“While we respect press freedom, The Tyee’s sensationalist coverage does not represent an accurate account of the district’s deep commitment to and making of real changes to positively impact students and our broader community,” the email continued.

When asked to provide clarity about which facts were inaccurate, neither the VSTA nor VSB provided responses by press time.

Wells, the Canada Research Chair for the Public Understanding of Sexual and Gender Minority Youth, is not surprised LGBTQ2S+ students continue to struggle in school to have their voices heard.

“Schools seem to be frozen in time, and they're still incredibly dangerous spaces for many LGBTQ youth, especially those who are trans, Two-Spirit or racialized,” he said.

Wells points to the EGALE Canada survey that found LGBTQ2S+ students still face abuse and harassment in schools above levels their straight and cis peers face, often with inadequate intervention from schools.

“Congratulations to these students for being so forward thinking. But it's not surprising that they received opposition or that obstacles were put in their way. Because, again, they're trying to challenge and change the status quo,” Wells said.

“And those in the positions of power and privilege are the ones who resist that because the status quo has benefited them.”

Wells is surprised, however, that a union official tearing down school posters supporting LGBTQ2S+ representatives on student council hasn’t faced more disciplinary action for what he sees as a clear case of unprofessional conduct that makes schools even more unsafe for LGBTQ2S+ people.

“I'm quite shocked that this teacher was not disciplined by the BCTF. And at minimum should no longer be in a union-level position,” he said before the recent VSTA executive elections.

The Tyee requested an interview with BCTF president Teri Mooring regarding Wells’ statement and the poster removal. She sent an emailed statement instead, expressing the commitment of the provincial teachers’ union to the safety and support of LGBTQ2S+ students and teachers.

“The BC Teachers’ Federation is also deeply committed to the hard work of improving our structures to make our union more inclusive and equitable for all members, especially those from equity seeking groups who continue to experience marginalization,” Mooring’s statement read.

B.C. does lead the way in terms of having SOGI policies in every school district, Wells said, mandated by the provincial government in 2016. But Wells says one major change he would make in schools across Canada, including B.C., is including mandatory LGBTQ2S+ content in the curriculum and training to help teachers bring it into the classroom.

“What we do know from research is that the vast majority of Canadian educators support LGBTQ-inclusive education. They just don't necessarily know how to do it or feel confident that they'll be supported by their school administration or school boards if they do it, because they're still dealing with parental backlash or backlash from other colleagues or people in the community,” Wells said.

“And so the status quo gets maintained. And LGBTQ youth continue to suffer in prejudice and discrimination in their school environments.”

Wells is working with other researchers to develop a new project they hope to launch this coming fall called the RISE, online resources for incorporating LGBTQ2S+ issues into any teacher education program course, from school administration to classroom management, from chemistry and biology to social studies and art.

But school districts and provinces need to invest in LGBTQ2S+ professional development for current teachers, too, he added.

‘Feeling uneasy at school now’

Though student council can now have up to three SOGI reps, the struggle to get the seats is having a lasting impact on some of the students who fought for them.

Mestinsek, one of the interim SOGI reps, said the whole experience of the posters being removed, putting them back up and pressing the school for answers on why they were taken down was “exhausting.”

But she was buoyed by the support alliance students received from their Britannia peers.

“One of the greatest things about this whole experience is that a lot of queer people feel empowered and supported by their community and feel like they can speak up for the first time in a long time,” Mestinsek said.

Yeomans told The Tyee they would have preferred the next student council have two Indigenous representatives, both voted in rather than a single rep appointed by acclamation. But she is pleased with the referendum results and looks forward to training in her replacement on council.

“If I'm able to help this person before I leave, so they have an idea of what we do on student council, then I’ll still feel like I accomplished something,” Yeomans said.

Truong, who is set to graduate in June, says his grades have suffered and he’s fallen behind because of the stress from the pushback from the former council teacher sponsors and subsequent involvement from administration and the district.

He estimates he’s had 20 unexcused absences from this school year. Some in order to catch up on schoolwork, others to meet with school and district officials to discuss the SOGI representatives or file complaints about the former sponsor teachers. And sometimes because his mental health was poor.

“There's just this constant kind of sense of discomfort and feeling uneasy at school now,” he said.

It’s not how he thought his final year of grade school would go.

“I lost a lot of the joy that I used to have with school… the joy of being at school, the joy of doing coursework,” he said.

“I just want it to be over.”

* Story updated on June 2 at 3:46 p.m. to correct a reference to who made the decision to remove the posters.  [Tyee]

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