The Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School student grew up in a Christian family, and she struggled with wanting to still be part of her religious community, even though some church members had a problem with her sexual orientation.
Templeton has also been the target of derogatory comments from classmates at times. “I ignored them,” she said. “I said 'Whatever, you're so bigoted and simple-minded that you can't accept it.'”
But all in all, Templeton said she's found a supportive environment at Lo-Ellen and the high school in Kitchener, Ont. she attended until she moved to Sudbury last year.
She attributes that feeling of acceptance to the gay-straight alliance clubs at both schools.
“It's a good place to meet people who are also in the LGBT community,” Templeton said.
“It's also a great place to meet straight people who support you and to just find support. I find it's great for kids who either don't have the support at home or within their group of friends.”
Given the role gay-straight alliances have played in her social life, the teen said she was excited to help organize the Rainbow District School Board's Dare to Stand Out Conference, held Oct. 10 at Lo-Ellen.
The fifth annual conference — a gathering of about 150 members of the board's gay-straight alliances — featured guest speakers, workshops and even a dance in the evening.
Lo-Ellen teacher Patrick Barnholden, who co-ordinates the school's gay-straight alliance, said more and more high school and even elementary students are self-identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered (LGBT).
All of these students need support, thus the importance of the Dare to Stand Out Conference, he said.
There's generally been a “sea change” at the board's schools when it comes to supporting LGBT students since Barnholden joined Lo-Ellen's staff in 2001, although there are still detractors.
“I remember the very first month I worked here there was a dance,” he said.
“A teacher came to me, concerned that two boys were dancing together. Tonight we're having our first dance sponsored by the gay-straight alliance, the first one in Sudbury. That's easy to do now, but it would not have been possible 12 years ago.”
The conference was co-sponsored by Jer's Vision, an organization founded by Jeremy Dias.
After coming out of the closet at his Sault Ste. Marie high school, Dias faced homophobia and racism from classmates. Worse still, school officials didn't know what to do to help, and were even sometimes discriminatory themselves.
He ended up taking the school board to court, and used the $5,000 he won there to start Jer's Vision, an organization that works with schools to stop bullying and discrimination.
“I think it's been a really amazing opportunity to get to work with youth and empower them to make a difference in their schools,” Dias said.
Although schools have done a lot of work to stop bullying, he said the issue isn't going to be solved simply by students wearing pink on Anti-Bullying Day or by administrators putting up posters.
“It's really about immersing yourself into cultures and communities, being empathetic and learning how to be nice to people,” he said.
The keynote speaker at the conference was Teddy Syrette, who is also a Sault Ste. Marie native.
When Syrette was attending high school 10 years ago, he was picked on for being gay and First Nations so much that he dropped out of school four times, and never ended up graduating.
“I was physically hit, kicked, pushed, spit on,” Syrette said. “I got death threats in my desk and lockers saying 'Die fag die' in high school.”
This kind of abuse caused him feelings of self-hatred. He said he wants the students attending the conference to know it's OK to be different.
He said he was saved by getting involved in community theatre, where he learned more about himself. He eventually ended up attending and graduating from Sault College's social service worker program.
“If there was the support there is now in high schools 10 years ago, I probably never would have dropped out,” he said. “But then, I wouldn't be here today.”
For more information about Jer's Vision, visit www.jersvision.org.