Interview with Student Activist Hayley Pickard

Hayley Pickard.jpg

Hayley Pickard sat down for an interview with Project Demystify’s Shirley Ren to discuss her experiences as a student activist. Read the full transcript below.

SHIRLEY REN: Hi, I’m here today at Markham District High School with Hayley Pickard and thank you Hayley for joining us today for this short interview.

HAYLEY PICKARD: Thanks, more than happy to!

REN: As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, Hayley actively advocates for gender equality rights and mental health issues. She has served as the President of the Alliance Club at Markham District High School, facilitating events, organizing meetings, and creating a safe space for youth in the community. In her spare time, she enjoys creative writing, singing, and theatre. Hayley wants to make a difference for all minority groups and overall make the world a better place. So, today Hayley will be briefly sharing about her experience with advocating for student rights in the community, and also inspiring other student activists to follow her steps. First of all Hayley, why are you passionate about the causes that you advocate for?

PICKARD: I’m passionate about these causes because when I was younger (and while I was in elementary school, I was just discovering these communities, all the new words, new terms, and what they meant) I knew that I needed someone to help guide me. It was hard to try to figure things out on my own, based on what other people have said and what other people were saying to me [...]. I needed someone else to be able to guide me and tell me what was going on. So, I’m passionate about this because I want to be that voice for other people, and I want to be able to help other kids and other youth in the community who need a role model of some kind, or who need someone to guide them through what everything means and how it works [...].

I want to be able to help other kids and other youth in the community who need a role model of some kind.
— Hayley Pickard

REN: You mentioned that you wanted support when you were younger. What are some resources that you wish were available for students on this issue and do we have these resources right now?

PICKARD: I know that in elementary school, one thing that I always wanted is for there to be a GSA or a Gay-Straight Alliance of some sort [...]. That wasn’t available to my school specifically, and while it could have been available at other schools, mine didn’t have one. I think that [would have bee] great, and [while] it also depends on the student leadership [...], it’s good to have that support. In regard to high school, I definitely think that it’s important to talk about the LGBTQ+ community in our health classes and sex-ed [...]. I think it’s important for youth going into high school just to know what there is, what all the terms are, what it means for them and if it relates to them. I found out that I was queer very young [while] in elementary school, but for some people, it takes a lot longer because they don’t find the words to articulate it until later in their lives. It’s important to have those resources available to them so that they know what they’re feeling.

REN: Definitely. So, what impact do you think your or your group’s actions made in the community?

PICKARD: I think we’ve made a lot of impact in different areas, but [...] [since] we’re a school club [and] we meet every Friday after school, one thing that I’ve noticed that just warms my heart, is that sometimes, students would tell me that they look forward to the Alliance every week, it’s the one thing that they look forward to at the end of their week [and] it’s what gets them through the week. That’s why we always have our meetings on Fridays, so it’s a nice end to a week [...]. We’ve had students before who would be sick and [...] stay home from school, but they would come to school just at the end of the day for the Alliance because they love it so much. People have said that it feels like a family [and] it feels like a safe space, where we all care about each other and want everyone to do well. I think the impact has been giving these students a space where they can feel comfortable in themselves and in their identities, and I think that’s one of the most important things you can give someone.

REN: Oh wow, that’s great, and I just wanted to add onto this, what types of activities do you usually have at your meetings?

PICKARD: We have lots, they range from very different genres [...]. We sometimes [watch] videos [...] [that have] different role models speaking to the students [...]. We have conversations where we would pose a topic and talk about it, often it’s a controversial topic, and we would try to figure out what the root of it is and what the answer is. We play different games and activities [...] where people can just feel comfortable and safe in the room. And we do different educational presentations [...] and events like board game night, pyjama nights, [etc.]. It ranges, it’s not just talking at you (the members of the alliance) about the community, it’s bringing you into the conversation and letting you have a part in it.

REN: Wow that’s great, I think just letting students have a space where they can freely share their ideas and what they’re passionate about is really important.  

PICKARD: Absolutely.

REN: So, what does being active in the community mean to you, and how do you stay active in the community?

PICKARD: It’s different for everyone, I think. Again, [like] most of my answers, it’s different, it ranges [...]. Often people will ask: “How do I be an activist?”; “How do I make a difference?”; “How do I actually do something?”. [...] I wouldn’t say it’s marching in the streets or protesting [...] cause it’s not always that. Sometimes it’s just calling someone out for saying a slur, calling someone out when they say something homophobic. I think that’s really important as [a part of] being active. You can’t be silent on things, you have to be active on them, you have to be loud, you have to [...] let your voice be heard. That being said, people who feel uncomfortable in school or in their certain environment, their activism, they can take online. They can educate people online with posts and blogs [...]. They can form their own kind of activism through a source [that] they feel most comfortable in. I think, in general, being active in the community just means being able to feel strong and empowered and help other people directly.  

REN: Wow, that’s an amazing answer and I feel I already learned so much from you. What types of actions can a society take as a whole to solve this issue that you advocate for specifically?

PICKARD: It’s a lot of togetherness, it’s a sense of community I think, as [present in] [...] the LGBTQ+ community. But I think society, needs to bring back that sense of community because as of right now, it [feels like] [...] an “us” and “them” situation. And I think we need to separate from that and acknowledge that we are all interconnected. There’s the statistic that says one in five people are gay, and if that’s true [they are among the] people that you know. There’s no way to be able to just disconnect from them and we need to accept that we’ll always be around these people in our lives and there’s always going to be that community overlap. So [...] for this whole society to make a difference I think it’s important to just be kind to [and respect] everyone [...]. If someone does come out to you as gay or if someone comes out as trans, have [...] that understanding. Even if you don’t understand the technicalities of it, you understand that it’s a big deal for them, you understand that it’s important that they feel loved and respected. So even if you don’t fully get the concepts, as a society we just need to be able to say, “Alright, cool, I’ll still love you the same.” [...] It’s just being able to support the people around you no matter what.  

REN: Yes, it is understanding and supporting.

PICKARD: Exactly.

REN: It’s great. And lastly, do you mind just sharing some recommendations you have for students who might feel unsafe, uncomfortable, or confused about their identity?

PICKARD: I would say to anyone who’s in that situation to reach out to someone. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a family member or even someone you know in real life, even online there’re always so many people that you can find who are there to help you. The hardest thing in the community is to be alone. So, it’s most important to make sure you have someone, make sure you have a support system, make sure you have someone who either feels the same [...] or can understand how you feel. Being able to find someone else, to have that support, to have that camaraderie, and to know that you are valid, you are loved, and [you are] respected [is important] [...].

REN: Thank you so much Hayley for joining us today once again.

PICKARD: No problem!

REN: Your ideas, your experience, and your positive energy just inspire all of us.

PICKARD: Thank you.