Sharing the key to VIU’s Generation Q Conference success

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By contributor Dane Gibson

Their daughter spoke about her spirit as early as the age of two. At first they didn’t think much of it. “Isn’t that nice,” they said with a knowing smile. But as the daughter grew and gained more words, she became more insistent.

“She said very forcefully and repeatedly that her spirit was a boy,” said the mother, who was participating in a parent and youth panel at the Generation Q Conference held at VIU in early February.

Generation Q Conference co-organizer Kathleen Reed and keynote speaker Harlan Pruden.
Generation Q Conference co-organizer Kathleen Reed and keynote speaker Harlan Pruden.

“All we ever wanted was for him to be his authentic self, to be happy,” she said. “He’s fully transitioned now and has no problem talking about it, but I remember those days back when he was in grades two and three when he would come to us crying because they forced him to go to the girl’s bathroom at school. I would say to him: does it matter about your parts? What does your spirit say? And he would always say: ‘my spirit is a boy’.”

There were eight parent and youth participants on the panel. They all shared stories about their families to help contribute to a more welcoming and inclusive community for transgender, two-spirit, intersex, and non-binary youth.

The Generation Q Conference was held primarily for youth service providers. This was the first conference of this type locally, and organizers A.J. Macleod, Kerri Isham, Kathleen Reed, and Haley Lackie were blown away when more than 220 people showed up at VIU’s Malaspina Theatre for the conference.

Everyone from the Nanaimo RCMP, Vancouver Island Health Authority, and the BC Teachers Federation, to three different school districts, the City of Nanaimo, the Nanaimo Women’s Centre, and Vancouver Coastal Health were represented.

Reed, who is also on the steering committee for the VIU Positive Space Alliance, an on-campus group that raises awareness of diversity in sexual orientation and gender identity, said delegates were receptive and interactive, which helped make the event a success.

Reed said the discussions throughout the day were spirited and covered a wide range of topics. An example was when the capacity crowd was asked: “What is gender?” and hands shot into the air.

Screen Shot 2016-03-08 at 10.09.12 AM“Gender is what I feel between my ears, not what I feel between my legs,” one person said. Other voices joined in. “It’s about how you relate to yourself—a personal identity.” Another chimed in saying the problem with gender is it prescribes who we should be rather than recognizing who we are.

Reed says the level of discussion the conference encouraged was enlightening.

“We found there was a lot of curiosity, particularly within the service provider community. They wanted to know how to offer services to youth that are transgender, intersex, two-spirited, or don’t identify as male or female,” said Reed.

Conference co-organizer A.J. Macleod is a coordinator with the Generation Q youth group, which is hosted by the Nanaimo Boys and Girls Club with a mission to create a safe, supportive, and inclusive space for youth to connect and openly express their concerns regarding issues impacting their lives.

“There are things we do as service providers that really affect the lives of gender variant people, and the conference was one way to bring some of those things out in the open,” said Macleod.

“We addressed everything, from surveys that ask respondents to identify if they’re male or female when it has no impact on the information they are collecting, to looking at the way language, is used—not just being aware of the language but being aware of the root of some of the terms that are used, because often they are rooted in oppression.”

Sponsors of the Generation Q Conference included the Boys and Girls Club of Central Vancouver Island, Starbucks (Fifth St. location), VIU Faculty of Health and Human Services, VIU Faculty Association, and VIU Positive Space Alliance. All proceeds from the event went to support the Generation Q youth group.

Macleod says the incredible level of community engagement that was generated from the event means they will definitely be working to make the Generation Q Conference an annual event.

“One of the cool things about the conference was people were willing to take a bit of a risk. It was a safe, supportive environment where they could share and learn, and it was recognized that everyone’s intentions for going were good,” said Macleod.

“We considered this a general knowledge conference, but we want to make it an annual event with themes that focus on specific topics like schools or health care. Our plan is to take what we learned this time around and build on it.”

Patrick Konkin is Chair of the Social Work and Community Support Worker Department at VIU. He was an advisor on the event and supported the idea from the beginning. He says that once the organizing was done and the conference got underway he could sit in the audience and enjoy the discussions that the keynote speakers and presenters encouraged throughout the day.

“The Generation Q Conference was a tripartite, collaborative arrangement between a wide community of service providers and members of the public, our VIU educational institution, and the LGBTQ community,” said Konkin. “It was structured to determine how best to raise awareness about the challenges that the LGBTQ community face on a day-to-day basis.”

“By providing a space to openly communicate together, all parties had the opportunity, with understanding, to determine the best way to move forward and to strengthen ties with each other. Obviously these are complex issues, but I think the conference was a successful way to address a wide range of gender and sexuality questions in an open and honest way.”

To learn more about sexual identity and gender issues, go to VIU’s Positive Alliance website: www2.viu.ca/positivespace.