This week, Brant News is turning its focus to matters of acceptance and equality.
On Page 13 inside this week’s print edition, North Park Collegiate co-op student Krysten McCumber, who is currently completing a work placement at Brant News, writes about how Brantford high schools are working toward creating a welcoming environment for students who support the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students.
Gay-straight alliance clubs have so far formed in three Brantford high schools, Brantford Collegiate Institute, North Park Collegiate and Pauline Johnson Collegiate. The clubs – open to all students regardless of sexual orientation – provide teens a safe place to talk about their experiences and examine ways to increase acceptance of all students.
A 2011 study called Every Class in Every School – the first national survey on homophobia, biphobia and transphobia in Canadian high schools – shows the clubs are needed. The national survey, which was undertaken in order to investigate what school life is like for students with sexual or gender minority status, surveyed more than 3,700 students from across the country between December 2007 and June 2009.
Some of the study’s findings:
• 64 per cent of LGBT students and 61 per cent of students with LGBT parents reported that they feel unsafe at school.
• More than one in five, 21 per cent, of LGBT students reported being physically harassed or assaulted due to their sexual orientation. Over a quarter, 27 per cent, of students with LGBT parents reported being physically harassed about the sexual orientation of their parents.
• 70 per cent of participating students, both LGBT and non-LGBT, reported hearing expressions such as “that’s so gay” in school every day. Almost half, 48 per cent, reported hearing remarks such as “faggot, lezbo or dyke” every day in school. Almost 10 per cent of LGBT students reported having heard homophobic comments from teachers daily or weekly.
These findings clearly show there is a long way to go before LGBT students truly feel safe and welcome in Canadian high schools. But there is much hope for the future, thanks to changing attitudes and the actions of students who are willing to take action, like those who participate in gay-straight alliance clubs.
One of the more promising findings in Every Class in Every School was that 58 per cent of straight students surveyed said that they found it upsetting to hear homophobic comments. Also, LGBT students from schools with anti-homophobia policies reported significantly fewer incidents of physical and verbal harassment due to their sexual orientation.
Here in Brant, the Grand Erie District School Board has embraced gay-straight alliance clubs, with the board’s manager of communications, Shawn McKillop, saying that the clubs “show the school community that the student body welcomes and celebrates individuality, uniqueness and the diversity in every student.”
Tracey Austin, the Brant-Haldimand-Norfolk Catholic District School Board’s manager of communications, said it would be up to administration at Brantford’s two Catholic high schools – St. John’s College and Assumption College – to approve a gay-straight alliance club if students were to show interest. “If staff or students express a need for a club of any type it would be the school principal who receives the request and they are always there to assist,” Austin said.
We applaud the work of students in forming gay-straight alliance clubs at Brantford high schools and encourage local school boards to continue offering the support required to make all students feel welcome at school.