Educators strive to create allies for gay youth

Written by Richard Blaquiere on November 27, 2009

 

The need for the workshops was apparent to organizers. The last four decades have seen incredible, even seismic improvements in the public lives of gay adults across Canada. Ours is one of several countries that have legalized same-sex marriages. Same-sex couples have most of the same pension rights and adoption rights as heterosexual couples.

Sexual orientation has been written into the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as an “analogous” category for protection against discrimination. However, the reality for gay kids in straight schools is one that is still too often steeped in rejection, alienation, exclusion and violence, both from others, and at their own hands.

Gay kids hear homophobic slurs on average 25-30 times a day. Gay kids start smoking, drinking and experimenting with drugs at an earlier age than their straight peers.  Gay kids are intimidated, bullied and beaten at a greater frequency than their straight peers. Gay kids are three to five times more likely to attempt suicide. These suicide attempts are often the first indication to family and friends that gay youths are struggling with sexual and romantic attraction issues. Gay kids don’t see themselves represented anywhere in the curriculum.  Far too often, gay kids remain invisible, often barely out to themselves.

Creating Allies for Gay Youth: The Next Step, began with a passionate and articulate talk by University of Toronto student and Fredericton native, Nathan Thompson. He grew up in Fredericton and was educated in environments where the subject of homosexuality was rarely raised in a positive manner. His work with the University of Toronto’s Mark S. Bonham Centre for Sexual Diversity Studies allowed him to contextualize his personal experiences within the larger framework of academic research in the burgeoning field of sexual diversity studies.

The conference also included discussion about the policies and laws that protect gay youth. In fact, if these inclusionary provisions for gay children were not implemented, civil action could be taken against incidents that would have been prevented in a more pro-active and inclusive environment.

Participants also heard from a panel of individuals with insights on a variety of topics that included tips from Shawn Corey on how to effectively introduce and integrate themes of equity and equality for gay youth into the schools. Rev. Bob Johnston, an openly gay minister residing in St. Andrews, deconstructed the passages in the Bible that are most often used to condemn homosexuality and homosexuals. Ann Moores, a social worker and counselor, provided a historic overview of homosexuality.

The afternoon was spent reviewing the Canadian Teachers’ Federation’s Gay Straight Student Alliance Handbook, an excellent resource for educators seeking to introduce GSAs into the culture of their schools.  Participants were asked to commit to one action or strategy for implementation upon their return to their schools and districts. Follow-ups are in the works.

Richard Blaquiere is a high school teacher organizer with Pride in Education. He can be contacted at Richardb[at]nbnet.nb.ca.

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