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I am a new parent. My interests are secularism, learning, parenting, religion, career planning, and adult education.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Public Schools Introduce Anti-Discrimination Policy for GLBT Youth - Christian program doesn't like it

I've been following the news regarding Edmonton Public School Board's (EPSB) decision to create policy that would protect Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered (GLBT) youth from harrassment, discrimination and bullying at school. Unfortunately, in order to spin a story, the Edmonton Journal chose to focus not on why this policy is needed or how it will help and protect GLBT students, but instead on how the Christian LOGOS program are concerned that the policy "could have a significant, negative impact" on their programming.

With a little searching, I found a discussion document on why the EPSB decided they needed to develop this policy. The rationale for creating such a policy, outside of regular school anti-bullying policy, includes the following points:
  1. research that shows that GLBT youth experience significantly more physical and sexual abuse and harrassment in school, have run away from home, have trouble with harmful substances, report more sucidal thoughts, and suicide attempts than their peers.
  2. The Alberta Government was the first in Canada to name homophobic bullying as an education concern (surprisingly progressive for Alberta!), in addition all public funded schools in Alberta are legally mandated to provide discrimination-free educational environments
  3. Courts are encouraging school to do more than just discipline bullies, but must also "address a pervasive school-wide culture of homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexism."
  4. And finally, and to me, most importantly
"Contemporary research demonstrates that vulnerable minority groups have needs and concerns that are seldom effectively addressed by broad “catch all” policies. (...) A specific LGBTT policy and accompanying regulations are necessary to help provide teachers and administrators with the necessary knowledge, strategies, and resources to create safe, caring, equitable, and inclusive learning environments for sexual minority students and employees. In addition, these policies also provide important support for heterosexual students who may come from same-sex parented families. Importantly, the development of specific policy and regulations will also create recommended actions and outcomes from which progress can be measured and evaluated. ... However and perhaps most importantly, as an invisible minority, a standalone policy visibly signals to the LGBTT community that they are a valued and respected part of our school communities.
At the end of the day, GLBTT students and students of GLBTT parents, experience bullying for very different reasons than heterosexual kids. It's often not an issue of just dealing with the class bully who is lashing out - but from overt and subtle discrimination and harrassment from many students, teachers, counsellors, and administrators. This kind of bullying, harrassment, and discrimination comes from a place of bigotry, fear, and homophobia: it is not the same as your run-of-the-mill school-yard bullying (although it can be that too). Teachers and students need different resources and training to deal with these issues to make school a safe place for GLBTT.

I would also venture to guess that GLBTT youth need these policies even more in a relgious enviroment. GLBTT youth who come from religious backgrounds often don't choose their schools - their parents do. Potentialy, these youth cannot get support or help with their feelings from their own family members who may believe that homosexuality is a choice and a sin - wouldn't it be nice if they could find support, help, and community at school - since they might not be getting it at home or church?

I am sad that the publically funded LOGOS program is more concerned about their teachers' rights to "freely [express] their Christian beliefs in the classroom" and thereby contribute to a homophobic culture than to protect the vulnerable youth that are certainly in their midst. Perhaps they can just focus on the many positive Christian beliefs they hold regarding love and charity - and keep their views on homosexuality to themselves in the classroom - leave those beliefs to be taught at church, in the political arena if you feel you must, and in your home. Maybe keep them from vulnerable children who are just trying to discover who they are and get comfortable in their own skin. Although, perhaps you might just choose to focus on your own sins, rather than the percieved sins of others, who may not share your view anyway.

My heart aches of GLBT youth - let's see if we can't help them make it through high school without being tormented - and everyone else too.

For a great opinion piece on this issue please see this.