On November 7, Bishop’s University’s School of Education will be hosting the first ever Eastern Townships Gender and Sexual Equity Summit under the coordination of Secondary Education Major and 3M Student Fellow Jason Earl. Earl presented the conference as a space where students, teachers, community members and community groups are invited to come together and engage in shared learning, conversation and planning for gender and sexual equity activism across the region.
“It’s meant to be a space that brings together people who identify as LGBTQ plus, but it’s also looking to bring together people who identify as allies to that community,” Earl said. “It should be a shared space.”
Earl is not arranging all the details of the forum on their own, but instead coordinating a team of people to help make sure that the whole event comes together. As a result of that, as well as the fact that workshop leaders are still being sought, the coordinator was unable to say with complete certainty how exactly the event will unfold, but they were able to give a general portrait of the schedule, which is expected to run from 9am to 9pm.
In the morning, once all participants have arrived and settled in, everyone will take part in a two-hour anti-oppression workshop focused on exploring historical systems of oppression as well as the personal notions of privilege that each person brings with them from their own background. According to Earl, this shared experience functions as one of several ways that the conference endeavours to create a space in which all participants can feel safe to discuss and engage openly. By putting everyone on the same page about oppression and the things people unconsciously accept as “normal” from the start, the conference opens the door for people to be more aware of how they might consciously or unconsciously make others feel out of place and works to prevent that discomfort.
With that combined experience framing everyone’s expectations, the summit will break down into individual workshops and discussion groups after lunch, and it is in these groups that Earl suggested that the full work of the gathering is meant to take place.
“One of the things we were mindful of in planning this event was the limited resources within the Eastern Townships that focus on gender and sexual diversity,” the Coordinator said. “We recognize that this is not a big urban centre liked Toronto or Montreal or Vancouver. We’re looking at this event as an investment in our community; we can’t just work with what we’ve got. Let’s not reinvent the wheel here, let’s reach out and see what else we can bring in.”
By both bringing in resources from outside the region and getting existing but disconnected groups to share ideas and expand their horizons, Earl shared a hope that the conference will help foster community growth and learning within the local Anglophone community.
The summit itself comes as an extension of an independent learning project that Earl is engaged in at Bishop’s.
“That learning experience looks at how to create initiatives within the Bishop’s community to support gender and sexual diversity and diversifying our community more,” the student said, explaining that the summit simply takes that concept and expands the definition of “community” to include the entirety of the Eastern Townships. “I basically expanded that experiential learning course to encompass the summit.”
Though the conference is being organized through the University, Earl said that the focus of the event is much more on collective conversation than the presentation of academic research. Rather than being academics talking to academics, the organizer expressed a hope that the event would be a coming together of students, parents, teachers, community members, community groups, local schools and other interested parties to have the conversations around gender and sexuality that people don’t often take the time to intentionally discuss. Ultimately, the organizer said, the hope is that all participants will engage, reflect, and the walk away with energy to do more.
“Personally, as a pre-service teacher, I am looking at how we as teachers can better support students in schools,” Earl said. “We as teachers have an obligation when students are entrusted to our care, and that obligation is to provide students with the opportunity to consider diverse perspectives. Part of our job is to create the space in our classrooms and our curriculum for gender non-normative perspectives to come to light and sexually non-normative perspective to come to light. That is difficult to do as a teacher, though, if we haven’t invested our own time in thinking about these perspectives.”
Right now, according to Earl, the registration for the event has a higher concentration of high school students than anyone else, but the hope is to have teachers come and actively engage with the discussion and workshops as well. There is room for about 100 participants in the conference altogether, and registration is open until October 31.
Although there is a limited amount of room in the summit itself, Earl pointed out that the keynote address, to be given by celebrated African-Jamaican-Canadian poet and dramatist d’bi.young anitafrika in Bandeen Hall at 7:30pm is free and open to the community.
Anyone looking for more information about the summit or wanting to offer workshop leadership is encouraged to contact Jason Earl at ETGSESummit@gmail.com.