Every year at the end of October, students from Gender and Sexuality Alliances at anglophone high schools all over New Brunswick come together to celebrate PIEcon – an annual conference organized by Pride in Education. Students have a chance to get together with like-minded individuals in a safe space, attend panels and workshops, learn new things about themselves and the world, and have a whole lot of fun! As Chroma’s intern, this year I had a chance to attend PIEcon and help out, and it was an absolute blast.
A giant rainbow flag hanging in Brunswick Square, and rainbow wings for photos.
This year, PIEcon was held right here in Saint John for the first time ever, at the Delta Hotel on King Street. As attendees arrived and registered, I helped run the merch table as they entered the conference. We were overwhelmed with teens checking out the flags, notebooks, stickers, and other cute rainbow merchandise available, and quickly sold out of most items. After the crowd settled into the ballroom, and a quick welcome from Stuart Kearney and Gail Costello (of Pride in Education), we were treated to a keynote speech from activist Jack Petocz. Jack is an American high school student from Florida, most known for organizing a student walk-out in protest of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill. After organizing the walk-out, Jack was suspended from school indefinitely, and was eventually allowed to return after a change.org petition resulted in over 7,000 signatures in support of him. Since this, Jack has continued his advocacy work, working with the group “Gen-Z For Change”, protesting book bannings, and writing letters to politicians.
Activist Jack Petocz and Pride in Education’s Stuart Kearney
Following the keynote and a Q&A session with Jack, the group split up and everyone attended the different sessions they had signed up for, including; Queer Jeopardy, zine making, drag makeup tutorial with the lovely Mx. Amour Love, yoga therapy, dance, and many more. I sat in on Queer Jeopardy hosted by Stuart Kearney, and learned some fun 2SLGBTQIA+ trivia while handing out prizes to the winners. After the afternoon sessions, and a delicious buffet dinner served by the Delta, attendees had an hour to get dolled up for Pride Prom, hosted by fantastic local drag performers Justin 2D and Dia Monde, and danced the rest of the night away.
The second and final day of PIEcon started off with a breakfast buffet at the hotel, followed by another keynote by Mitchell Goodine, also known as Mx. Amour Love. Goodine spoke about their personal journey as a queer performer from rural New Brunswick, highlighting the importance of mental health and being true to yourself. The keynote ended with a bang – Goodine pulling out their fiddle and the crowd all getting up to dance along. After what they called an “impromptu New Brunswick kitchen party,” the crowd was dismissed to attend their final sessions of the weekend. I sat in on a discussion by the authours of queer history book “Len and Cub” and got a chance to learn about a queer couple from rural New Brunswick in the early 20th century. I also attended the Music Therapy workshop, led by Nicholas Scott, where teens wrote positive affirmations for themselves and mixed them into “This Is Me” from The Greatest Showman.
From left to right: Mx Amour Love helping with makeup; Friday’s rainbow merch table; Mx Amour Love workshop; Stuart Kearney during closing ceremonies; Nicholas Scott leading Music Therapy; Pride In Education parade banner.
Overall this weekend was a fantastic experience, for the teachers and students who attended as well as those of us who were keeping things running as smoothly as possible. I attended PIEcon myself as a student from 2012-2015, and it was an absolute highlight of my high school years. All of the kids who attended this year seemed to have a blast: it was refreshing and inspiring to see so many young people so open and comfortable with their unique identities. I want to give a huge shout out and thank you to everyone at Pride in Education who organize this conference year after year, and to all the presenters and teachers who took time out of their busy schedules to make the weekend a memorable one.