Teacher-led queer and trans support group earns Human Rights Award

by | Sep 21, 2023

Pride In Education, comprised of past and present educators, presented a 2023 NB Human Rights Award by the Lieutenant-Governor

At a moment when the debate surrounding gay and trans rights has reached the boiling point, especially involving New Brunswick schools, an educator-led group was recognized for its efforts to protect the 2SLGBTQIA+ community. 

Pride In Education, the only provincial 2SLGBTQIA+ support group comprised solely of past and current educators, received the prestigious 2023 NB Human Rights Award during a ceremony on Friday, Sept. 20, at Government House. 

Lt. Governor Brenda L. Murphy presented co-chairs Christina Barrington and Gail Costello with the award. 

The ceremony also included the Youth Human Rights Award presentation to STU alumnus Sydona Chandon for her work in multiple areas of social justice, including with international and racialized students. 

PIE’s interim communications director, Richard Blaquiere, a retired Woodstock High School teacher, explained Pride in Education (PIE) was founded by a small group of educators determined to address the issues facing queer and trans youth, their families and friends in the schools and communities of New Brunswick.

 “After watching the harm perpetrated upon 2SLGBTQIA+ students in our educational system, a group of teachers created Pride in Education in 2009 to start creating safe, inclusive schools for these at-risk students,” said Costello

Barrington explains the group aims to create inclusive learning environments for all students in the province. 

“We have led policy changes, including developing elements of the beleaguered Policy 713 that are designed to protect 2SLGBTQIA+ students and staff in schools,” she said. “We’ve created and provided training and resources to educators and have organized events and activities that promote diversity and acceptance. Our annual youth-centered PIE Con (Pride In Education Conference) is a highlight of the year for our students and their adult mentors.”

Lt.-Gov Murphy said the 2023 recipients exemplify the principles of equality and inclusion. 

“Each in their own way, Pride in Education and Sydona Chandon have worked tirelessly to bring New Brunswickers together while defending the interests of marginalized people,” said Murphy. “Their efforts have removed barriers and created more accessible, equitable, and diverse spaces where everyone can be comfortable being themselves.”

New Brunswick Human Rights Commission chair Phylomène Zangio said that over the past 30 years, the province amended the act to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

“The New Brunswick Human Rights Act was amended in 1992 to include sexual orientation as a prohibited ground of discrimination and, more recently, in 2017 to include gender identity or expression as a prohibited ground of discrimination,” said Zangio. “As newer rights recognized in the act, a lot of education was required and continues to be required to foster understanding and awareness about these rights.”

Blaquiere said the highlight of the ceremony was the launch of the inaugural annual Tammy Strong PIE Humanitarian Award given to an educator or a team of educators who have demonstrated a commitment to a safer province for queer and trans youth and peace of mind for the families and friends who love them. 

“It was a great day,” he said.

Chandon, a 2022 STU graduate, left an incredible legacy of empowering students from various backgrounds, including international and racialized students. 

During her university years, she served as the vice president of education and a board director at the New Brunswick Student Alliance. She was also one of the organizers of the first Emancipation Day in New Brunswick in August 2021, an annual celebration commemorating the abolishment of slavery across the British Empire.

“Growing up, I was always taught that change began with those who were bold enough to believe in it, and much of my work in advocating or defending students derives from that boldness,” said Chandon. “The bravery to believe that we all deserve the right to equally have a space in this world. The right to equal access of education, the right to proper housing, the right to exist regardless of the colour of your skin.”

Zangio praised the inspirational nature of Chandon’s efforts. 

“Sydona sacrificed much of her personal time at St. Thomas University to inspire and uplift others, often working long hours to attend advocacy meetings and do community work through her many associations,” she said. 

Zangio said Chandon continues to assist the New Brunswick Student Alliance and remains an active voice for New Brunswick youth and human rights. 

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