Hanely Smith came out at school before coming out at home.
“School was that one safe place where I was comfortable and happy,” said the Grade 11 student at Citadel High School in Halifax.
Smith was introduced to the Youth Project, a LGBTQ2+ advocacy group, in Grade 7.
“That was one of the first times that I felt like, I can be gay and live here at the same time and that will be OK,” Smith said.
On Wednesday, Education Minister Zach Churchill announced the government will invest $750,000 over three years to the Youth Project.
The funding will help the advocacy group reach schools in rural communities where supports may be limited, said Kate Shewan, executive director of the Youth Project.
“LGBTQ2 students in Nova Scotia often face stigma, discrimination, harassment and bullying,” said Shewan. “LGBTQ2 students deserve to feel welcome. They deserve to feel like they belong in this school and they have the right to feel safe.”
The Youth Project will put on workshops, classroom presentations and lessons for students, teachers and staff across the province. The group is also working on developing resources to help teachers in schools.
In 2017-18, the Youth Project reached more than 13,000 students with its workshops. It is looking to reach more than 25,000 students with its latest efforts.
“We work to build knowledge and understanding, reduce stigma and normalize differences, while also ensuring LGBTQ2 students are validated and see themselves reflected within the school environment and curriculum,” said Shewan.
Luna LeFort will be visiting schools and talking with students as the Youth Project’s community educator.
LeFort attended a French school four years ago and had to teach herself about gender identity and sexuality. As a bilingual speaker, LeFort is looking to provide more resources to students in similar situations she faced.
“The fact that you’re a queer, trans, two-spirit individual and you’re a healthy capable adult gives them a role model to look up to,” said LeFort. “Just having that safe space to have that conversation allows them to self-explore, feel safe and see it’s not all that bad.”
Having a safe space at school allowed Smith to confidently come out to their family.
“I got the chance to be confident knowing no matter what happens in my life, I know who I am and because I know who I am I don’t have to worry about what anyone else is going to have to say,” said the high school student.
Smith is now a member of the youth board with the Youth Project.
“This work is so important and changes so many lives,” said Smith. “Everyone needs an adult that they can go to and talk to and feel safe around and that’s what the Youth Project is.