Nunavut high school hosts second Rainbow Day
“It may feel like they don’t have anyone, but there’s a whole community of people who support them"
If you consider yourself a member or an ally of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and queer community — and you happen to be in Cambridge Bay today — put on some colourful clothing and head down to Kiilinik high school.
That’s where staff and students are celebrating the school’s second annual Rainbow Day, a gathering aimed at promoting awareness and inclusion.
Kiilinik’s May 1 Rainbow Day also coincides with Canada’s National Day to End Bullying.
For student Kelsey Barton, 18, it’s a small gesture that means a great deal to someone who calls herself one of the few openly gay people in the community.
As she did at Kiilinik’s inaugural event, Barton crafted rainbow-coloured unicorn horns attached to headbands for fellow students to wear.
The bright colours are an important theme in what students call a positive event, but everything hasn’t always come up rainbows for Barton.
“When I first moved here two years ago, I got a lot of weird looks,” Barton said. “Some people seemed a bit put out. But it’s definitely gotten better over time.”
Barton said the first Rainbow Day helped open an important discussion at Kiilinik school and throughout the larger community.
And that was its goal, said Kiilinik teacher Beth Sampson, who helped launch the gathering.
“It’s really grown the discussion that we’ve has with some students who’ve had issues with bullying and also the general ignorance towards what the LGBTQ community is dealing with,” said Sampson, who calls herself an ally of the community.
“We’ve since had a series of talks about different LGBTQ issues, like what does it mean to be transgendered? Or bisexual?” she said. “A lot of people don’t understand the terminology.”
Sampson, who has lived and taught in Cambridge Bay for the past six years, said the school has received a lot of public support for its efforts, with parents asking if they could drop by the May 1 gathering.
But some Nunavut politicians have directed harsh words to the LGBTQ community in the last couple of months, she said, making the need for Rainbow Day all the greater.
Some Nunavummiut politicians have recently questioned the place of the community in Inuit culture, starting with remarks by an Iqaluit city councillor Simon Nattaq about the raising of a rainbow flag at city hall during the Sochi Olympics.
That incident was followed by comments by Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. president Cathy Towtongie, who commended Nattaq for speaking out.
Sampson called those comments “a shot to the heart” for gay Nunavummiut.
“It’s still a more contentious issue here than in the rest of Canada,” she said. “As an educator, I’d say: if you’re an ally, speak up, and speak up louder than you would elsewhere. Because these kids really need to hear it.”
And while Rainbow Day happens thousands of kilometres away from other Nunavummiut who identify as LGBTQ, Barton encourages those people to feel like they are all part of the same community.
“Things can definitely be tough [for a gay person living in Nunavut],” she said. “It may feel like they don’t have anyone, but there’s a whole community of people who support them, even if we don’t know each other.”
“It took some time, but I feel like I belong,” she said.