A Conversation with the Out In Schools program

July 15, 2021

The media we engage in shapes our culture and perception of the world around us. Despite an increase in positive representation of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community primarily due to commercial interest, queer folks are still underrepresented in the media. As an audience, we are subjected to queer baiting (the practice of hinting at or mimicking queerness without genuine representation), or queer coded characters who are far-too-often cis and/or white, without broader, authentic representation. The pervasiveness of heteronormativity and cisnormativity on and behind the screen reinforces and exacerbates harmful misconceptions. Authentic visibility however, validates and empowers sexual and gender minorities. 

The work done by the award-winning Out In Schools program empowers the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, particularly young people, through visibility and positive representation on screen. Film is a powerful educational tool that teaches us that we have the power to shape our stories. Out In Schools Program Coordinator Danny Laybbet (he/they) says, “by interacting with queer film, they get to see themselves reflected. They get to see possibilities for what they can be.” Program Coordinator, Avery Shannon (they/them), acknowledges that, students today know far more about queer issues than youth in previous generations. Thus, the team strives to meet the audience where they are. Working with Out In Schools since 2014, Education Director Gavin Somers (they/them) has firsthand experience of the impact having conversations about queer issues earlier on has for youth. After presenting to an engaged high school, a group of youth spoke to Gavin to say they attended an Out In Schools presentation a few years previous and, as a result, the youth knew queer lexicon and even spoke up to share their own stories. Reaching youth early and often is key to the program’s success. “You don’t have to do that unlearning [later in life],” says Gavin, when asked about what difference reaching younger audiences makes. “Because you’re provided access to tools and representation early on.”

Out In Schools presentations start with the opening question, “how would your story change the world?” before sharing films that showcase authentic queer representation. For many kids, it is the first time seeing themselves on screen. The presentation is structured to be relatable and geared to the audience, such as not showing films with too much jargon or complicated plots. Films selected for each presentation are age and grade appropriate, to enhance relatability and understanding. The team also factors in who is presenting. For example, if all facilitators are cis, they will showcase trans stories because the facilitators themselves will have an opportunity to share their own experiences alongside the films. Out In Schools also presents at corporate offices where the conversation is based around supporting adults as they unlearn misconceptions about the 2SLGBTQIA+ community perpetuated by the media and learn to step into allyship both in the office and in their wider communities. 

As a youth, I never had a chance to see an Out In School presentation. Instead, a man spoke at my school about conversion therapy. As a queer teen, this interaction reinforced shame, which is why the work done by Out In Schools is integral for transforming lives by showing that queerness is worth celebrating. In addition, the power of visibility allows students to see that they are not alone. The films reaffirm that their presence in the world matters; they matter.  Even more important, presenters and films show the power of exploring queer joy as contagious and transformative mediums. Danny shares that “more recently I’ve been really loving the celebration rather than tolerance aspect of life. We’re past the point of just needing to accept. Well, like, yeah, you need to accept trans people. But also that being trans is good.Each of us can carve a space for ourselves and shape our world. 

Discussions about 2SLGBTQIA+ issues are now a part of the BC curriculum however, the Out In Schools program is unique by showcasing films that uplift the lived queer experience. Out In Schools presentations are a continuously flowing conversation, where questions and discussions lead to films, and films spark new questions and audience engagements. These experiences  are empowering for youth, educators, and employees, and they move participants to action. The goal is that they continue to have conversations and promote safer, more inclusive spaces after Out In Schools departs. Allies develop empathy and learn how to use their visibility and power to conduct deliberate allyship. Meanwhile, queer folks gain a sense of belonging to a community. The films that are especially meaningful for Out In School’s staff are Meet the Transgender NCAA Swimmer from Harvard (Schuyler Bailar), Kapaemahu, Wendy’s Story aka The Healer, and Ur Aska.

Book a presentation with Out In Schools and empower queer folks in your community. For an extensive list of educational resources, access the Out In Schools website.


On August 15, during the Vancouver Queer Film Festival, we are collaborating with Out In Schools to deliver a presentation so attendees can witness the work done by the program firsthand. The Out In Schools team will share short films, present content, and engage viewers in a discussion about queer representation in media and allyship. Register for the presentation today and check out the rest of the Festival programme online!

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