Just because students have a right to form a gay-straight alliance doesn’t mean that every school is taking up the offer.
“No board can stop your right from having a gay-straight alliance (club),” said Maureen Bostock, an activist and volunteer with the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgenedered) Lanark County committee at the “Could This Be Love?” conference, held at the Civitan Club hall in Perth on Wednesday, Nov. 18, which was sponsored by Lanark County Interval House and the Civitan Club.
Bostock was referring to provisions within Bill 13, the “Accepting Schools Act 2012,” but some schools in the county do not have a club set up. The Roman Catholic school system has been up in arms about allowing such clubs since Catholic doctrine is opposed to homosexuality.
“I don’t believe there is (a club) and if there is, I am not aware of it,” said Jacob O’Leary, a Grade 11 student at Notre Dame Catholic High School in Carleton Place, during a break in the conference proceedings, though he hastened to add that, at NDCHS “it seems like a very welcoming environment. I am sure that there are gay kids, (but) they feel that they cannot come out for whatever reason.”
While bullying is addressed in his classrooms at school, the discussion is “not usually specifically about,” anti-gay bullying.
“It doesn’t come up a lot,” said O’Leary.
As for teachers at his school, when the topic does come up, “they like to remain neutral on it. They would never speak negative of it…The students are pro-gay rights.”
The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, essentially the church’s spiritual constitution, states that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered. They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life…Under no circumstance can they be approved.”
The church, while it does see homosexuality as “a trial,” it stresses that “they must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided.”
The church suggests that “homosexual persons are called to chastity,” as a way of avoiding what it perceives as the pitfalls.
The “Accepting Schools Act 2012,” however, states that students need to be educated so that they can “take action on making their schools and communities more equitable and inclusive for all people, including LGBTTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, two-spirited, intersect, queer and questioning) people.”
The act not only stresses that every board “shall support students who want to establish and lead activities and organizations that promote a safe and inclusive learning environment,” with regards to gender equity, anti-racism, people with disabilities, sexual orientation and identity, it also specifically outlines that “for greater certainty, neither the board nor the principal shall refuse to allow a pupil to use the name gay-straight alliance or similar name for an organization,” described above.
Regardless of whether their schools have gay-straight alliances or not, Bostock said it loud that she was gay and she was proud, to both Catholic and public school students at last month’s conference.
“I am a lesbian,” Bostock said. “That is an important thing for me to say, so that you can know who I am and also because there are countries where that (homosexuality) is illegal.”
Indeed, in some countries, along with jail time, capital punishment is used for gay activity.
“The struggle has been extremely hard but we are winning some of those battles,” said Bostock.
At her table sat a pile of rainbow-coloured bracelets which stated “Enough is Enough!” calling on people to eradicate anti-gay bullying. A new poster campaign will be launched soon which will feature, among others, Perth Mayor John Fenik wearing their own rainbow bracelet. By the end of the conference, all of the bracelets were gone.
Bostock stressed that the numbers tell a sad tale of just what a day is like in the life of a gay teen. She worked with a teenager who lived in rural northwestern British Columbia. The Grade 12 student took his town to the province’s human rights tribunal in 2002 for not declaring Pride Week. The student had grown used to anti-gay slurs and taunts in the hallways of his school and elsewhere, but one day he decided to count just how many slurs he was the recipient in any given day. On an average day, he discovered, he was bullied 47 times, with words like “fag.”
“For him, high school was a war zone,” said Bostock. “It is appalling. I am getting angry,” just thinking about it, she said firmly.
She pointed to statistics that show that LGBT teens are between two and three times more likely to commit suicide. But there is hope.
“Bullying stops within 10 seconds of someone intervening,” said Bostock.
Even at that, people who know that bullying is wrong when they see it are still fearful of the bully’s wrath being turned towards them if they intervene.
“If I stand up, the bully will see me as a likely target,” said Bostock. “Or, our friends will side with the bully. (Also) few people enjoy being called a snitch.”
Even if a student is not gay, they can still face anti-gay bullying, with taunts like “that’s so gay,” or being called gay or a lesbian being used as a put-down. Some students may face bullying for being effeminate or a Tomboy, “kids who don’t fit into rigidly defined gender stereotypes.”
Bostock urged the students to see beyond stereotypes and used herself as an example.
“I myself am a farmer,” she said. “We are different. See beyond the stereotypes. My farmer identity is as important to me as my lesbian identity.”
The presentation sparked a frank conversation between Bostock and the students about different facets of gay stereotypes and sexual identity.
Almonte and District High School student Danya Yaremchuk asked “How do you help someone who is homophobic?”
“You have to do it with caring and affection,” said Bostock, before adding, “but you have to say that ‘Your attitude sucks. You call them on it, you call them on it, you call them on it,” each time it happens.