School council federation promoting acceptance of visible minorities

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I talk a lot about bullying: who’s most likely to be a bully or be a target and why.

Nathan Whalen

By Nathan Whalen

It seems like our culture is more aware of it than ever and yet it still occurs at alarming rates. I think much of the problem has to do with how as adults, we aren’t aware when we exhibit bully-like behaviour, especially when the little ones are watching. We all know it’s a big problem and we task the education system with finding a solution.

But what we don’t spend much time talking about is how what we think, say, and do can marginalize others and make people that identify as a visible minority feel worthless or unsafe. We all understand that at its core, bullying is about power and vulnerability.

“Every Class in Every School,” published in 2011, is the first national high school survey ever conducted to investigate what life at school is like for students that identify as a gender or sexual minority.

According to the study conducted by Egale Canada Human Rights Trust, “70 per cent of all participating students, LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ, reported hearing expressions such as 'that’s so gay' every day in school and almost half — 48 per cent — reported hearing remarks such as faggot, lezbo, and dyke every day in school.”

Language a factor

This is an alarming statistic as the common use of anti-LGBTQ language contributes to a culture of bullying and harassment of LGBTQ students and makes these students feel even more marginalized.

Much research has been conducted to support that these same students are more likely to be the victim of bullying, be physically or verbally harassed, drop out of school, experience mental health problems, and are even more likely to commit self-harm or suicide.

Moreover, this same study suggests that, “almost 10 pre cent of non-LGBTQ youth reported being physically harassed or assaulted about their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity and more than 10 per cent reported being physically harassed or assaulted because of their gender expression.”

It starts at home

In Newfoundland and Labrador, we have been very progressive in how we are making school and home life safer and more comfortable for both youth that identify as LGBTQ and those that do not.

However, it takes more than simply acknowledging that LGBTQ individuals exist and “tolerating them.” Tolerance is not impactful enough to shape our climate and culture to nurture our approximately 1 in 10 lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, and queer youth and adults. We need to accept them.

How can you help as a parent of community member? Whether you’re a parent of a child that is LGBTQ, LBGTQ identifying yourself, or if you identify as straight, you can still be an ally in promoting a safe and positive climate for your school community.

Being an ally starts at home. From how you make an effort to include diverse and positive portrayals of LGBTQ individuals in your own home or ensuring you do not use homophobic or transphobic slurs common in schoolyard conversation, children in your care will certainly notice. Establishing boundaries in your home helping everyone understand that homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia are not acceptable and politely reminding individuals when they misstep these boundaries will make a considerable impact.

Supportive networks

If you’re involved in your child’s school, ask whether or not a Gay Straight Alliance is active in your school and be sure to promote and support their efforts. GSAs help to create safe spaces and actively foster awareness and inclusion. These groups can be powerful support networks for students and the entire school community; be sure to support them.

In 2011, the provincial government launched the myGSA.ca resource for teachers, parents, and students. However, we all need to work together to foster safer schools and a safer province for our young people. Will you be a partner in acceptance?

For more information about how you can help, please visit www.mygsa.ca.

— Nathan Whalen is president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of School Councils and can be reached at president@schoolcouncilsnl.ca.

Organizations: Egale Canada Human Rights Trust, Gay Straight Alliance, Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of School Councils

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador

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