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Making Positive Spaces for Fort Erie High School Students

by Matthew Vandervoet | Nov 25, 2021

Making positive spaces for Fort Erie high school students

Greater Fort Erie Secondary School club promotes inclusivity, understanding

Fort Erie Post
Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Austin Hough

A group of students at Greater Fort Erie Secondary School has a message to fellow students: Just do you.

The group — Austin Hough, Benjamin Howard, Libby Carthew, and Elizabeth Godwaldt are all members of the school’s Positive Spaces Club, a group that is all about providing a safe space for students at a time in their lives where they may be faced with inner conflict over who they are, their sexuality, their assigned gender or who may be facing other issues with their peers.

The club recently held an event on International Pronoun Day last month to promote inclusivity at the school, handing out pronoun pins in exchange for a donation to OutNiagara. The event raised $150. They got some help from the Fort Erie Public Library for the project in the form of the use of the library’s button maker. The group also just held a coffee house at the school as another fundraiser.

The group is supported by a trio of teachers — Laura Tonin, Giorgio Fragnito and Chelsea Weir.

“There was a similar group at the old (Fort Erie Secondary School) and in Ridgeway (Ridgeway-Crystal Beach High School),” Tonin said. “When the schools combined, we wanted to continue it here. It’s a safe space for anybody, but especially for the LGBTQ2S+.”

One of the students is Austin Hough who was born female but now identifies as a transgender male.

“It’s a place where everyone can be who they are without being afraid,” he said. “It’s about accepting people for who they are. People confuse sex and gender and say there are only two sexes. There’s not, there’s male, female and intersectional.”

It’s something that Hough has taken seriously. He has done plenty of reading as he came to grips with who he is.

“I read a lot of science, a lot of psychology books,” he said.

He said people need to educate themselves before they judge him or others.

“I think that is the hardest thing,” he said. “There are places people go for all the information.”

Godwaldt, agreed, and said the biggest thing is a lack of education.

“People don’t understand what we’re trying to do,” she said.

Godwaldt is gender fluid, describing herself as pansexual. She sports a button that says “Any/All Pronouns” and feels comfortable in the knowledge that there are members of the staff, like the three teachers working with the group, who are supportive.


“It’s nice to know there are teachers we can depend on to help up,” Godwalt said.

A third member of the group, Carthew, who like Godwalt is gender fluid and identifies by all pronouns, said she has told friends who attend other schools about the GFESS club and they are impressed.

“They wish their schools did something like this.”

She said many students chose to be open to speaking with her at the pronoun pin event.

“We had about 100 different people ask me about my pronouns.”

But there are still those who chose to be critical.

“Even when we did the pronoun pin day, there were some pretty mean comments.”

And Hough said that people making derogatory comments, even in passing, are doing so out of a lack of understanding.


“We are no different,” he said.

Godraldt agreed.

“We want to be known as us. We want to be accepted.”

Tonin, meanwhile, said the group is living up to its name.

“We want to breed acceptance and understanding,” she said. “We want them to feel safe just like everyone else.”

STORY BEHIND THE STORY: Everyone wants to be accepted for who they are and the Positive Spaces Club at Greater Fort Erie Secondary School helps students, particularly those who are part of the LGBTQ2S+ community, strives to create an environment that does just that. The Post spoke to members of the club to see how it has impacted their lives.

Richard Hutton is a Reporter-Photographer for Niagara this Week, covering everything from politics to community stories and everything in between in Niagara’s southern tier.

Original Article