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Grade 9 student Tru Wilson speaks to more than
200 secondary students attending an anti-racism symposium at the Resource &
Education Centre in Surrey.
Tru Wilson felt different as a child. It wasn't because she had mixed-race parents, or that her grandfather was Aboriginal. Her identity crisis, she says, began when she was nine years old.
"I was born a boy," the teen told a crowd of students in Surrey, "but as you can plainly see, I am a girl."
Wilson was the keynote speaker at Cross-Cultural Connections: A Youth Symposium on Race.
She shared with the more than 200 attendees her inspiring journey – from the terror of telling her mom and dad, to taking on a Catholic school board, to becoming a vocal advocate of transgender rights and inclusion.
She needn't have worried about her parents – they were immediately supportive and did all they could to better understand what it meant to be transgender. Her school, however, wasn't sure how to deal with it.
"When I went to school, I had to pretend I was a boy again," said Wilson. "It was the worst game of dress up ever."
She and her family filed a human rights complaint, which eventually ended with the Catholic School Board adopting a transgender policy.
Now in Grade 9, Wilson continues to speak publicly to fight exclusion and enlighten and empower others.
She did just that in Surrey on March 7, telling fellow teens to "Speak up! Be loud."
Her own power, she said, only came when she began living her truth.
"So who are you? What is your truth and how can you live it?" she asked the students to a roar of applause.
Speaker Sergio Pawar (right) echoed Wilson's message, telling the youth audience to "accept everyone equally and present the best version of yourselves."
His story began as a child in England where, as an Indian and one of the only "brown" faces at his school, he faced a steady stream of racial slurs and abuse from peers.
"I started growing up with this notion that 'They hate me, so I should hate them'," he recalled. "That was the wrong thing to do."
His attitude led him down a path that included gangs and drugs and eventually, prison. Sent to Canada by his frustrated parents in his late teens, he found himself alone, with no skills or experience or family nearby.
"I had to adapt to a life of accepting everybody and treating everyone equally," Pawar said, adding he turned his life around, got an education and has now run two successful companies.
"That would not have happened if I judged everyone differently."
Attendees at the symposium were surveyed on various topics involving racism (some of the results below). They also heard from 2011 Grey Cup champion and Aboriginal ambassador JR LaRose, and were treated to a performance by A Tribe Called Red.