Photo by Lorraine Graves
Thirty-three per cent of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, two-spirited (LGBT2Q+) youth in Canada attempt suicide. Seven per cent of straight youth attempt suicide.
The number of assaults and murders of LGBT2Q+ Canadians outstrips the general public as well. Often, if the person beaten up hasn’t told others they are gay, the crime is only recorded as an assault. Sometimes, the beating is never even reported to police. Living life in the shadows, hiding who you are, has a cost.
“My family is not as accepting. They are more on the conservative side which means issues and topics like this are controversial. It’s a very hush hush topic. It is hard.” So as not to cause problems at home, we do not show the person’s identity and their gender.
The Richmond School District wants to keep our students alive and safe, all of Richmond’s students. To that end, the trustees propose a Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) policy. Comprising five sentences over three paragraphs, the proposed district policy statement calls for, “A safe, respectful and caring environment.”
Later, the policy states, “It is our collective responsibility to ensure that every individual is treated with fairness, respect and dignity and is included fully in the life of the community.”
The school district held an information at RC Palmer Senior Secondary April 24 for the public school district’s proposed Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity policy (SOGI).
One of the students in attendance, active in the Rainbow Club at Steveston-London when asked about the proposed SOGI policy said, “It matters to me because as a member of the queer community I’d like to see myself represented as well as letting other people know and spreading awareness.”
While another commented, “I haven’t heard anything directly but have heard slurs being passed around the halls quite regularly.” When asked who stops it when they hear students slinging homophobic names about the school, one student said, “No one.” While another said, “I do.” Neither could recall another student or teacher stepping in to stop the homophobic bullying.
They both cited the disfigurement of posters at school promoting acceptance of GBLT2Q+ students.
The new SOGI policy aims at changing attitudes. This will make it safer for youth who are not heterosexual.
At the information session many misconceptions were dispelled. SOGI is not about teaching students specific materials as only the BC Ministry of Education can set curriculum. Rather, SOGI is about attitudes of acceptance and support of all students within the public schools of Richmond, regardless of sexual orientation.
Canada has been through this before. At one time, Chinese and other Asian Canadians were excluded from professions and sometimes educational institutions. The June 3, 1953 edition of the Vancouver Sun ran a small article about Burnaby’s dilemma; the only qualified person to apply for a civic job was Chinese and they were barred from being hired by the City of Burnaby. Prejudice fades when people act to include and accept those who at first seem different.
One student from the SLSS Rainbow Club said, “It would be nice to see everyone valued and acknowledged for who they are who they really are.”
With the SOGI issue possibly contentious, a small group of professional security guards hired for the Palmer event unobtrusively waited outside.
The information session, in Palmer’s gym, had large posters outlining the suggested district policy and the rationale for the school board’s philosophy. They are all available online as is a glossary of terms around what can be new territory for some families. This change would bring it in line with provincial ministry of education policy. The displays meant parents, students and concerned citizens were able to talk one-on-one with district staff, elected trustees, staff and students.
At the end of the evening the security guards said it was the quietest event they had ever worked, a testament to the organizational skills of the school district and the willingness of the people of Richmond to work towards understanding each other. The reasonable and respectful tone of all involved speaks well of our community.
The proposed policy statement ends with, “We believe that learning and working environments that are inclusive of diversity and equitable in relation to that diversity are essential in supporting the highest level of personal and collective growth and achievement.”
Another student attendance said, “It would be nice to see everyone safe and protected.”
The second SOGI information session, also at Palmer, is May 5 from 11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. All are welcome. The board votes on the adoption of the SOGI policy June 27.