Due to an increase in hateful and discriminatory commentary, we have chosen to not name the students or school staff in this story.

Even a heavy downpour couldn’t dampen the spirits of students from across the Waterloo Region District School Board (WRDSB) as they ran in to Waterloo Collegiate Institute (WCI) to hear from Kyne Santos earlier this month. Welcomed by big signs reading “Love Wins” on the lawn, the students mingled with one another while taking part in the free Pride-themed temporary tattoos and gift bags.

A temporary Pride-themed tattoo is applied to a hand.

Kyne’s arrival interrupted the murmur, eliciting cheers and calls for selfies, as she made her way to the auditorium.

Kyne waves to fans in the foyer.

Kyne was at the school to share the journey that led her to become known as the “math drag queen.” As the crowd of students settled into their seats, she began by talking about her experience in elementary school, and how she struggled to find her place.

“I didn’t really fit in with the boys, and I wasn’t one of the girls, exactly, either. But, I was a big teacher’s pet,” said Kyne. “My best subject in school was always math and I loved making people laugh.”

Math was Kyne’s passion, and she wanted to build a career in mathematics, but didn’t think it would mesh with her identity. After coming out, thanks to the help of supportive family members, she began to see the possibilities of pursuing her dream: a career in mathematics.

“I liked being artistic, I liked being creative, but I always felt that doing math and doing equations sort of tickled this other part of my brain,” said Kyne. “That was really satisfying to me.”

Kyne talks about her journey to becoming the "math drag queen."

Those two worlds collided during the COVID-19 pandemic, when Kyne began posting on TikTok about math while in drag.

“I thought ‘wouldn’t it be funny if I started telling math riddles in drag?’ I never thought it would catch on,” said Kyne. Several million views later, Kyne is living her dream as a mathematics communicator.

Reflecting after the event, Kyne shared her hopes for what students learned.

“I hope the students take away that you can pursue whatever you want. You can be a math person and an art person, a nature person and a fashion person,” said Kyne. “The thing that makes you different and special, you don’t have to hide.”

Kyne looks out at the audience from behind the podium.

Hearing from the student members of the WCI GSA after the event, it was clear that Kyne hit the mark. Students were especially struck by Kyne’s approach to math, and gained a fresh perspective on the subject, and their own options for the future.

“It doesn’t have to be this tricky thing that you learn in school, and it can be fun and exciting,” said a Grade 11 student. “You don’t have to listen to the stereotypes of whatever field you want to go in. She went to university for math, but she’s also a drag queen and that’s really cool.”

“By being a queer, Filipino drag queen in mathematics and doing so well, Kyne shows how anyone can break the many boundaries there are in STEM and other fields of study,” shared another student.

“We talk about people being able to see themselves in spaces that they’ve been excluded from, so to have someone in drag embracing their math identity sends a message that you can be whoever you want to be,” said Teneile Warren, equity and inclusion officer.

For students who have navigated more than two years in a global pandemic, the opportunity to come together with their peers from across the WRDSB, was almost indescribable.

“We haven’t had an event celebrating pride in so long,” a student reflected. “It was amazing to have so many people gathered together where everyone felt free to be themselves.” said a Grade 9 student.

“The vibes were just amazing. Everyone was so excited to be here and you could just tell that everyone was having the time of their life,” said a Grade 11 student.

A student reaches for a Pride-themed cupcake following Kyne's talk.

More than the shared joy, it was also an opportunity for students to build community, and to learn that they are not alone.

“There’s so many of us who are all here for the same reason. Even if it seems like it’s only a small community, there are so many people out there who will understand and accept you,” said a Grade 9 student.

It also provided a safe, welcoming and accepting space for 2SLGBTQIA+ students to be unapologetically themselves – something they have not always experienced at their school, in their home or in the community.

“The energy and space and family and love that radiated from the event and the community feeling and sense of belonging in that space,” especially struck one student who attended the event.

“There aren’t many spaces and places where I feel this sense of queer community and love and joy as well as seriousness and understanding to different experiences,” a student shared.

Staff, too, saw this was happening. It’s their hope that students know that there will always be people to support and love their authentic selves, no matter their identity.

“People may wonder if these events are necessary or important. My response as a board staff member is a resounding yes, a thousand times over. Students that are marginalized, bullied, looked at as odd, different or ‘othered’ experience isolation on so many levels,” said one staff member who attended the event. “These couple of hours gave a priceless gift to students that otherwise don’t feel what most of us perhaps don’t stop to realize and that is belonging, acceptance, safety.”

“I think this event is a good example of how you have a whole community of folks who are waiting to welcome you,” said another staff member. “So you can find your place.”

Though the students and staff at WCI are proud of all they accomplished this year, they are already excited for what will come next.

“I’m just so proud of everyone,” said one staff member. “I’m just really excited for the next events we’ll do together.”

A look at the Pride-themed temporary tattoos on display.

Hear more from WRDSB students

Why was this event important for you?

  • “It was truly amazing to experience that sense of belonging in a setting with so many people here for similar reasons. It was also fascinating to see how Kyne brought math into the performance.”
  • “Math has always been one of my favourite subjects in school but at the same time I’ve never really felt like that part of me belonged in queer communities. Kyne’s presentation was the perfect mix of both parts of me in a way which is something I’ve never really seen before.”
  • “I got to contribute to organizing and helping set up the event and then participating in it and seeing how much people loved it and felt proud of what we did.”

What is something you’ll remember from this event?

  • “For a moment there was no hate from people, no social media whining about how this isn’t a good influence on our children. There was a safe and loving and accepting community that wanted me to be there and wanted my story and my voice in the collective stories and experiences as queer people, and as a human, and I knew there’d be no hate and it was nice to feel so loved and appreciated.”
  • “That there is no one category that you’re supposed to belong in. You can span and be vast in what you love doing. You are not just someone for STEM or for arts. You don’t need to be just one type of person. You fit into a plethora of places and boxes.”