Q&A: This Royal Bay student is responding to anti-LGBTQ2S+ hate with love

After a rainbow crosswalk promoting inclusivity at Royal Bay Secondary School was vandalized, the community came together to support each other and spread love and kindness.

The West Shore community, as well as staff and students at the Sooke School District, came together in solidarity on Monday after a crosswalk supporting inclusivity was vandalized over the weekend.

On May 13, leadership students at Royal Bay Secondary School painted a crosswalk with the colours of the Pride and BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of colour) flag in support of LGBTQ2S+ and BIPOC community members.

In the early hours of May 16, the newly painted crosswalk was vandalized. West Shore RCMP say they responded to a call about a large gathering at the school just after midnight. Graffiti was found on the walls and outbuildings of the school, but it wasn’t until daytime that the graffiti on the crosswalk was discovered. The graffiti included what police say are hate crime slurs against the LGBTQ2S+ community. Two adult men were arrested for mischief and an investigation is ongoing.

Despite this incident, the community rallied together and re-painted the crosswalk within hours, SD62 says. Soon after, the school district put out a call for students, staff and families to show their support by wearing rainbow clothing, offering kind words and high-fives and spreading kindness on May 17 — the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. Community members shared their support by posting photos with the hashtag #SD62Pride on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

“As a school district of 11,300 students and 2,000 staff strong, we stand up to any kind of discrimination and hatred against others,” a statement from SD62 reads. “There is no place for homophobia, transphobia, biphobia and racism in our classrooms, our schools, our homes or our communities.” 

The Discourse caught up with Oskar Wood, a Grade 12 student at Royal Bay Secondary School, who helped envision this crosswalk and bring it to life. Here’s what he had to say about the incident and the show of support. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Royal Bay
Julia Morrison, Cheyenne Norman and Oskar Wood stand in front of the new rainbow crosswalk at Royal Bay Secondary School. Photo courtesy of the Sooke School District.

Shalu Mehta: Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Oskar Wood: I’m a student at Royal Bay here and in my last year. And I’m part of the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), which was the group that planned the crosswalk and saw it come to fruition. We also saw it get vandalized and come to life again.

SM: What prompted you to join the GSA and move forward with the crosswalk?

OW: As a queer person, I didn’t really see the representation within my school. I knew the GSA was always around and it was a safe space for queer people to show their true colors and be who they are without judgment. I was like, “Ah, this sounds pretty cool.” So I decided to join that in my Grade 10 year. But I had been thinking about this crosswalk since I had my orientation here at Royal Bay, after not seeing any representation at the school, and it made me very scared to show my truth and be who I am. It wasn’t until last year where we really started talking about it and planning the crosswalk. And we hope to just cultivate a culture of inclusivity and acceptance of everyone.

SM: So tell me a little bit about the crosswalk. What was it like planning it and putting it together?

OW: Planning it was incredible. It was incredible to see the support that our district and our principals had for it. They were 100 per cent in and responding so quickly, and getting everything that we needed. And then also Danielle Huculak, our GSA leader, she was incredible with doing all of the background work.

SM: What happened with the graffiti incident this weekend? 

OW: So it was Sunday morning and I woke up to a text from Danielle saying the crosswalk had been vandalized. And my heart immediately dropped and I was in shock. And then I started seeing posts on social media that the “F” slur had been written on it and f*** gays — excuse my language — and then there was a drawing of a person with an erect penis in their face which I’m assuming was me because my face has been one of the only ones that has been represented at the crosswalk. So it was very disheartening to see but it has only strengthened our meaning behind it and this inclusive nature. Yeah, it’s a crosswalk, but it’s a million times more meaningful than just a crosswalk. And it has been incredible to see the support from our community [asking] “What do you need? We’ll do everything in our power to help you and the school.”

SM: What do you have to say to the person or people who vandalized the crosswalk?

OW: Honestly, I would say, “I’m sorry.” I feel sorry for them that in their life, they felt the need to put up so much hate. But I also have a lot of compassion and empathy towards them. On social media I was seeing a lot of heat directed towards the vandals. And this is exactly the opposite of what I want to come out of this project. Because it’s meant to be cultivating this inclusive, empathetic and —  just mutual respect. And that’s what I want these vandals to be shown, with just empathy and compassion.

SM: What do you have to say to people in the community who might not support this project and this initiative?

OW: I would ask them to research and educate themselves about what queer people have done throughout history, and really sit with that feeling of, “Why do I have these feelings of homophobia?” I would ask them to just educate themselves and have compassion, because we are people too. Queer people are people, trans people are people, BIPOC people are people. We’re all in the same boat, right? And nobody deserves this kind of hate, this kind of oppression and we have come so far but we still have so far to go.

SM: The West Shore has really rallied in support over the weekend. What does it mean to see this support?

OW: It warms my heart to the extremes. It’s been an emotional roller coaster. I’ve been super happy at points but I’ve been super super sad. I have so much thanks to give to the community because they are what has been keeping me afloat and keeping me sane, in all actuality. They have been why I am coming out to school and repainting and just trying to make this right. So I would say thank you to them.

SM: What does it feel like being able to walk up to your school and see that crosswalk there?

OW: It gives me hope to see this crosswalk. Just hope for the future that compassion and inclusivity will come. It will take years but hopefully this will just kick-start it. Walking through that crosswalk into the front door, it really sets the tone and the stage for my school.

SM: How do you think the crosswalk makes other people feel?

OW: From everything I’ve heard they feel supported. The day of the painting, I actually had kids coming up to me that weren’t out publicly and weren’t out to their families, or anything. And they were just saying thank you and that it means a lot to them since they are still in the closet — that there is hope for them.

Royal Bay
Front: Izzy Kroll. Left to right: Peyton Gust, Oskar Wood, Cheyenne Norman, Julia Morrison and Tanisha Spiller. Students at Royal Bay Secondary School painted a rainbow sidewalk in support of the LGBTQ2S+ and BIPOC communities. Photo courtesy of the Sooke School District.

SM: What advice do you have for community members that want to help make places feel more inclusive?

OW: Educate yourself, that is one of the biggest pillars. I would ask people who are in charge of these spaces to educate themselves and treat everyone fairly and with compassion in every situation. Also have an open dialogue with staff, students, customers, everyone because you never know what someone is going through that day. I would say, just have compassion and treat everyone with love and inclusivity and just try to be good.

SM: What advice do you have for people who are actively combating hate in the community?

OW: I would say don’t let the hate win because it never does. Like there’s always the light and just have compassion because we can’t fight fire with fire. Fight with love and compassion.

SM: What was your motivation to include the BIPOC community in this crosswalk?

OW: Because in the LGBTQ community, trans people and BIPOC have not always been included and they’ve been marginalized within the LGBTQ community. So I thought it is important to have those colours shown within this, because if we are trying to promote inclusivity, we want everyone to be included and we want everyone to be shown and represented within this crosswalk and within our school.

SM: How are you taking care of yourself at this time? Because I imagine it’s been quite difficult for you. 

OW: Well I did the wrong thing of going on social media because I just wanted to see what was going on. And it was disheartening. So I’ve been on a little bit of a digital cleanse, if you will. And I’ve just been surrounding myself with the people I love and that are here standing in my corner. [end]

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