On March 11, a dreary, down-pouring morning, Jen and I drove out from Vancouver before sunrise, up the foggy sea-to-sky highway to the beautiful Gold Trail School District. This marks our first time ever presenting in that region.

Our first stop was at Ashcroft Secondary. The entire school of about 130 students eagerly welcomed us into their gymnasium. These young people were keen, astute observers and they asked incisive questions. I was left in awe by one ally student who repeatedly thanked us, without inhibition, in front of his friends and teachers for coming into their community and presenting on such important issues. While he did not identify as LGBTQ, he mentioned how presentations like ours make a world of difference to both students that identify as LGBTQ and to students that get bullied for being perceived as different. While I understood why our work in rural BC was important, this moment made it so tangible, so palpable – it was life changing for me.

Afterwards, we picked up some groceries in Lillooet and headed to our accommodation for the night: an organic hops farm run by a queer farmer named Sam. Sam was a gracious and energetic host and we’d like to thank him dearly for letting us stay with him and play with his farm dogs. Jen, while a self-proclaimed “cat-person,” immediately became leader of the pack and took on her role as matriarch of the farm.

After a restful night and waking up to what might be the most beautiful view in the world–mountains and clouds so close we could almost touch–we took off for Lillooet Secondary. The school, while bigger than Ashcroft, showed us equal consideration in warmth and welcome.

We made our final stop at Kumsheen Secondary – a smaller school in Lytton of mostly Aboriginal students. For this presentation, we lovingly crammed everyone into one classroom for a more intimate workshop experience. It was a great way to wrap up our rural mini-tour in Gold Trail by generating deeper dialogues about gender and sexual diversity.

We wish we could have extended our tour. With new ideas for our next rural trip, Jen and I started our 5 hour drive home, following the Fraser River back to Vancouver through risky landslides and west coast scenery. In fact, Jen and I laughed deliriously about the fact we had crossed the Fraser River around 10 times in just 48 hours.

Since then I’ve reflected more on my experience and what makes our work even more vital in smaller communities. Resources for queer youth are limited or non-existent in rural BC, and since many LGBTQ individuals move away from their small towns after high school, the lack of any queer presence in their community can lead to feelings of isolation, fear, and shame. I’ll always have that memory of that young person in Ashcroft who was so kind and so appreciative: Gold Trail is lucky to have him as an ally.

I feel so lucky to do this work, knowing how necessary it is. Our next rural trip is to Haida Gwaii in May, and it will be the second time Out in Schools has presented there. Teacher Stephen Querengesser from Queen Charlotte Secondary had this to say about our impact:
“When Out in Schools came up to Haida Gwaii in 2011, they were able to present at EVERY school in our district, and it made an lasting impact on the students and the teachers. The films and presenters were memorable, and the teachers and students were all talking about it even a few years later. Our District passed an anti-homophobia policy a year after the presentations because of the discussion it generated!”

BC is vast and beautiful and together we can make it a more inclusive province for our LGBTQ youth no matter where they live.