OK, kiddo! Here are all the fantastically amazing posts tagged with Schools

School Trustee Says Gay Students Should Act Less Gay

November 26th, 2012

A student tries to suppress his gayness before exploding into a rainbow. "Supressing... The Gay..."

If you’re a student in Alberta hoping that the school boards will offer some official protection from anti-gay bullying, it looks like you’re going to have to keep hoping. Last week, the Alberta School Boards Association rejected a proposal to adopt a province-wide anti-bullying policy aimed at protecting GLBT students and staff.

Now that the boards don’t think anti-gay bullying requires any special action, what advice do they have for all you gay students? Well, according to Dale Schaffrick, one of the 62 percent of board members who voted against the proposal, you could try acting less gay. “Children with a gay tendency,” Schaffrick told the media, could simply hide their gayness and be “less identifiable.”

“I think for their own benefit, it would be helpful,” he continued.

Gee, why didn’t any gay students think about this concept before? Hiding who they are so that bullies won’t pick on them. It would almost be as if they were hiding in a closet of some sort. You know, a metaphorical one.

For those of us thinking it might be better to try condemning the bullies’ behaviour rather than the victims’, it looks like we’ve got some work to do in Alberta. The Edmonton School Board, which introduced the policy to the ASBA, has successfully been running their anti-bullying program for a year now. Other school boards will follow suit, but it looks like some pressure will be needed before students can feel protected province-wide.

Principal Cancels Course To Prevent Gay Student From Taking It

September 17th, 2012

Thomas Amons sits with his hands folded beside a red button: "Blow up everything button activated."

The lengths people go to in order to stop gay people from enjoying their life…

Thomas Amons, a principal for the Beaumont Independent School District’s Taylor Career and Technology Center in Texas, has canceled an entire cosmetology course rather than let a student whom he thought was gay take it.

Cequada Clark, the course instructor, said that Amons had asked her to kick out the student because he seemed “flamboyantly gay,” but she refused for moral reasons. Undeterred, the principal then consulted BISD’s legal team to see if it would be possible to prevent the student from enrolling due to his sexual orientation. When the “no” response came back the next day, Amons shut down the entire course and Ms. Clark was fired.

Well, that’s a little drastic, wouldn’t you think? After all, from the school’s perspective, gay money works the same as straight money. If anything, money from a gay cosmetology enthusiast might even smell nicer and have fewer creases.

Christian Group Sues School Board Over Lesson Plans

September 10th, 2012

A man dressed in black guards an encyclopedia.

A group calling itself the “Parental Rights in Education Defense Fund” along with an anonymous “beleaguered parent” is suing the Ontario school system for not providing advance notice of gay subject matter.

“The parent seeks nothing more than to be given advance notice so that he can […] withdraw his children before the lesson,” the group announced on Friday.

While the press release itself didn’t mention gay issues specifically, the newly-formed group’s website obsesses over the topic almost exclusively, also establishing their opposition to “misguided” Gay-Straight Alliances, and any book written by GLBT authors.

Say, isn’t it odd that the same groups who often demand schools “teach the controversy” when it comes to learning about evolution and other scientific progresses, are so quick to censor and block other material? I spent my entire grade school education in the Catholic school system where gay topics were never discussed, probably on purpose. The only thing that withholding this information did for gay students like me was leave us uninformed and ignorant for many years before having to find out what we needed to know on our own from an uneven selection of reliable and unreliable sources.

At any rate, I want to offer a thought to this parent. Since he has chosen to sue the school board anonymously, let’s refer to him as Count Moriarty Von Jafar IV.

Mr. Moriarty Von Jafar, expose your kids to as many ideas as possible and stop presuming ownership over their minds. By all means, introduce them to your own ideas (and trust me, there’s plenty of time to teach your kids your own ideas; they don’t have to always hear your worldview first), but have the responsibility to let them discover ideas you don’t particularly like. Shielding them from a world you don’t always see eye-to-eye with is a complete impossibility, and that’s a wonderful thing. The less sheltered and more challenged a mind is, the more resilient and capable it becomes.

Ontario Catholic Schools To Get GSAs

May 28th, 2012

Dracula congratulations you with a "Condraculations!"
I admit it. I jumped the gun with my Congratulalien last year. When the Ontario government announced that all schools—including Catholic schools—must allow the formation of student-run GLBT support groups, I took that to mean students would finally be getting Gay-Straight Alliances, a proven strategy to improve student safety and reduce instances of teen suicide due to bullying. Having endured twelve years of Catholic schooling myself, I perhaps should have been able to predict what happened instead. While students weren’t explicitly denied support groups, the Catholic school board forbade these groups from being called GSAs and continued to meddle with their direction. When students requested a GSA, they were forced to accept a strange replacement—generic support groups where any discussion of gay issues would be ostensibly halted as being not inclusive enough.

Last week, after substantial pressure (and a tad more controversy than I’d expect in this decade), the Ontario government introduced a bill that unambiguously mandates GSAs in any school where students request one. That includes the name and direction that it implies. With all indications pointing toward a speedy passage, I hope that I’m not premature in issuing a most sincere Condraculations!

An assistant principal at Fullerton Union High School in California interrupted and disqualified a student competing for the title of Mr. Fullerton (A silly contest the school has going on, apparently) because the student said he hopes that same-sex marriage will be legal in California so that he can get married one day. The student, who was answering a question about where he sees himself in ten years, was ushered off stage in front of hundreds of parents and other students. The assistant principal has since apologized to the student, and—I presume—all other gay people for having probably supported Proposition 8.

A crowd of about 200 appeared in Queen’s Park, Ontario yesterday, protesting provincial legislation that will help eliminate anti-gay bullying in schools. This rally also marked the unveiling of some brand new terminology to be used by the anti-gay lobby, as a spokesperson began referring to Gay-Straight Alliances as “homosexual sex clubs.” The protesters then unexpectedly switched topics to rally against school-time “kidnapping, murder, and treason gangs,” previously known as chess clubs.

The Utah state senate has voted in favour of a bill forbidding discussion of homosexuality in classrooms, even if a question was posed by a student. Other jurisdictions are now reportedly considering legislation forbidding discussion of Utah.

Homophobic Lobby Group Freaks Out Over Anti-Bullying Video

March 5th, 2012

Jafar from Alladin holds up a sign: "Burnaby Parent's Voice"

Hundreds of students from schools across Vancouver have collaborated to create a YouTube video called the Pink Project, a creative effort to help spread the message that bullying is not OK. The video features students from eleven different schools dancing to Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way,” all wearing pink shirts with the message “Acceptance; Born this way.” It’s pretty great, and looks like it was a lot of fun to do!

Of course, some people just don’t like the sound of childrens’ laughter. Take Burnaby Parent’s Voice, for example. They’re the anti-gay lobby group that was formed exclusively to oppose the Burnaby School Board’s anti-homophobia policies. They’ve written the Premier of British Columbia in an attempt to stop the Pink Project video from being posted online.

Hey, let’s see if they were successful.

The Pink Project: An adorable dance routine featuring hundreds of students against crazy, homophobic bullies like the lobbyists at Burnaby Parent’s Voice.

Hmm… Seems OK to me. In fact, it’s more than OK; it’s fabulous!

Parents Flip Out Over Teachers’ Safe Space Card

January 30th, 2012

A hypnotist waves a pendulum before an entranced man.

Two fifth grade teachers at West Park School in Altona, Manitoba are being demanded by parents to remove cards from their classrooms indicating that they have completed training on how to support GLBT youth.

Stephanie Fortier and Peter Wohlgemut had voluntarily taken training sessions from the Rainbow Resource Center in Winnipeg and received display cards that will let GLBT students know they have an adult to confide in, should they ever need their support. The cards, which feature a rainbow flag with the word “Ally” printed over it, include the following pledge:

As an Ally, I envision a society that embraces, values and celebrates diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions.

As an Ally, I support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, Two-Spirit, intersex, queer, and questioning individuals, families, and communities.

As an Ally, I work towards a more aware, affirming, safe and open work environment in both policy and practice.

As an Ally, I acknowledge that creating a safe space is an unwavering process that requires productive commitment, re-assessment, and dedication.

As an Ally, I am committed to the elimination of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia, and heterosexism as well as other forms of oppression.

I participated [in] a Rainbow Resource Centre LGBTT Ally Training session and completed ___ hours of training in the year.

A number of parents subsequently freaked out.

“We have to sign hundreds of petitions to allow religious exercises in school,” Kim Peters Sawatzky, a parent at the school, told the media. “We should treat this situation in the same way, as it seems to be just as controversial.”

School officials say they’ve had a “steady stream” of requests to remove the cards. So, in an attempt to diffuse the parental panic, they decided to take some scissors to the cards so that only the rainbow flag with the word “Ally” remains, excluding the text of the pledge entirely. Not good enough for several of the parents, though, who are still adamant that the cards be removed entirely.

“I would like to have the choice of how I choose to teach my children about these words and what they mean,” MS. Peters Sawatzky continued.

What? “Ally?” That’s the only word left on the card to explain.

Not that the card did anything to prevent anyone from inserting whichever wacky definitions one wishes for these terms. In fact, I offer this challenge to any parent upset by these cards: Take your child aside, sit him or her on your lap, and define the following word: Ally (n.): An edible alien garment, used exclusively by members of the Zerphblangipod society of emu-wranglers on the planet Earth 2, located, by coincidence, precisely 3.14159265 light years from the home of Ms. Peters Sawatzky of Altona, Manitoba.

If, after reading this definition, an Ally card flies off the wall of Ms. Fortier’s fifth grade classroom and shoots gamma radiation into your eyes, then I will bake you a cookie. Otherwise, kindly chill the heck out and let the teachers tell gay students they’ve got some support.

Looks like Ontario may need to go to Newfoundland for some schooling on schooling. Clyde Jackman, Newfoundland’s education minister, just announced MyGSA, a $90,000 fund to help support the establishment of Gay-Straight Alliances. And it’s available to all schools offering grades 7 to 12. Cool stuff! It’s about time tha—Hey, McGuinty! Pay attention! Is that gum?

School Trustees Censured For Online Video Controvery

January 23rd, 2012

Denike and Woo appear in an It Shouldn't Get Better Project video.

Ken Denike and Sophia Woo, two trustees at the Vancouver School Board, were publicly reprimanded last week after misrepresenting the school board’s anti-homophobia policy.

The trustees were already the focus of some controversy when a video surfaced online showing them talking to supporters before last November’s elections. In the video, Denike and Woo claimed that the Vancouver School Board was about to amend their anti-bullying policies with controversial new measures regarding sexual orientation, bringing it in line with a “much worse” one in Burnaby. The best way to stop this contentious policy, they said, was to vote for them.

There was a little problem with this claim, mind you: Anti-homophobia measures had been added to the Vancouver School Board’s policies on bullying seven years earlier, in 2004.

This video couldn’t have surfaced at a worse time for Denike and Woo, who were already in a bit of hot water for appearing in a separate video for the National Organization for Marriage, one of the United State’s largest and most powerful anti-gay lobby groups. In a documentary-style spot posted on the NOM website, the two trustees spoke to cameras on school board property, implying that same-sex marriage had resulted in gay pornography being shown to schoolchildren.

Uh… Same-sex marriage caused gay porn to be shown to schoolchildren? Let’s reflect a moment on the likelihood of that being true.

Done reflecting?

Well, if you’re of sound mind (NOM supporters clearly excluded), you’ve come to the correct conclusion: No such repulsiveness ever happened (nor could it; it’s absurd). In reality, a third-party website address listed in a printed teacher’s resource booklet had sponsored a provocative and sexually suggestive public service announcement intended to help increase HIV testing in the adult gay community. The web address, which was never provided to students directly, was later removed from the booklet.

To his credit, Denike claims that the National Organization for Marriage had misled him and used his expression of concerns about the teacher’s resource booklet completely out of context. (I’d say!) He later had the video pulled from NOM’s site through legal action.

Now, did Mr. Denike and Madam Woo deserve to be publicly condemned by the board for these videos? Considering they essentially lied about the board’s policy in order to get votes, I’d say that’s an appropriate action.

Denike and Woo, humbled by the censure, have since apologized for misrepresenting the school board’s policies and are now focusing on more important issues…

Nah! I’m totally kidding. Refusing to apologise, Denike actually told the media that the censure has “impacted [his] human rights” and that he’s speaking with his lawyers. Stay tuned, kids! This might be a long one.

(Hat tip to the especially amazing Ryan Clayton for the story.)

Teacher Receives Death Threat Over Anti-Homophobia Policy

November 7th, 2011

An anonymous man ponders over an anti-homophobia policy: "So many complex, unformed thoughts. How to express them?" He then writes a letter: "YOU WANT TO DESTROY OUR CHILDREN! YOU WILL BE SHOT!"

A teacher in Burnaby, British Columbia has received a death threat over the school board’s proposal to adopt anti-homophobia policies designed to reduce incidents of bullying and make schools safter for GLBT students.

The letter, adorned with illustrations of bloody knives, reads as follows:

Must immediately withdraw POLICY #5.45
Adhere to the basic social principles!
You have no right to do so!
You want to destroy our children!
You are our enemy!
You will be shot!

Similar anti-homophobia policies have been implemented across B.C. without issue—and certainly no death threats—but some bizarre opposition in Burnaby has drawn the policy into the national spotlight. A one-issue political party with five candidates, The Parent’s Voice, was formed expressly to oppose the policy.

While I don’t expect that Parent’s Voice is officially responsible for the death threat, the alarmist language employed by the party certainly contributes to an atmosphere in which these types of reactions are encouraged. In a press release announced shortly before the letter was delivered, the group called the anti-bullying policies part of a “hidden political agenda” consisting of “homosexual propaganda” and “left-wing social engineering led by gay activists” to undermine parents.

The RCMP is investigating the letter.

Public Schools Move Forward, Catholic Schools Move Back

June 24th, 2011

The Flying Nun Returns: Rapidly redistributing homophobia from public schools into Catholic ones during times of postal lock-outs!

The Burnaby School Board unanimously adopted its anti-homophobia policy last week, after months of debating and church-organized protests. A crowd of about 400 students and supporters cheered outside the Burnaby School Board offices when Kaitlin Burnett, a supporter of the policy, emerged to announce its passage.

The new policy means that public schools in the region will be made safer for any student who is—or is perceived to be—gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, the Toronto Catholic School Board introduced several new, gay-unfriendly amendments to its equity policy. Included among them is one that explicitly enshrines the board’s religious doctrine as taking “precedence over human rights protections,” and another that states the board will “approve only clubs which have goals that are not inconsistent with Catholic faith and the Catholic Church’s moral and doctrinal teachings” (which, in Catholic-speak, is a direct strike at the growing support for Gay-Straight Alliances in their schools—important peer support groups statistically shown to reduce bullying and increase student safety).

Having spent my entire grade school education in the Catholic system, I can vouch that it’s survivable—in the same way that Vegemite is a breakfast condiment—but things could be improved, particularly since these schools are tax funded. Until that’s no longer the case, I foresee a difficult road ahead for these sorts of amendments. What might seem like a step backwards now, could be the final straw and signal the end of this kind of nonsense for good!

Study Finds Homophobia Rampant In Schools

May 13th, 2011

A threatening-looking man startles a student: "Leave this place. You are in grave danger! ... Seriously, don't hide from bullies in the chemistry lab's storage closet, OK?"

A new study being released today by the University of Winnipeg has found that homophobia has become a normal part of school life in Canada, with a direct impact on student safety.

Homophobic harassment and comments, sometimes even uttered by teachers, is commonplace. 64% of GLBT students actually report feeling unsafe at school. 21% have even reported being physically harassed or assaulted because of their sexual orientation.

The study also revealed a bit of hope, though. Both verbal and physical harassment were found to be significantly reduced in schools that have explicit anti-homophobia policies compared to those that did not. A clear majority of straight students, 58%, also reported homophobic comments to be upsetting, meaning that most students you meet will be an ally.

Anti-homophobia policies are finding organized opposition from church groups, as was seen in Burnaby this week, but academic research like this certainly outshines any imaginative misinformation and demonstrates a clear need for programs to make schools safer.

So, to all you guys having a rough time in school, hang in there! Things are getting better!

Anti-Gay Parents Protest School Non-Discrimination Policy

May 11th, 2011

Protesters hold signs including "I'm angry for some reason," "Why am I here?" and "Think of the children!"

A group of parents, organised by a handful of churches, rallied yesterday to protest a non-discrimination policy introduced by the Burnaby school district. The draft policy, which has yet to be finalized, addresses the unacceptably high levels of bullying that GLBT students face in comparison to other students.

This doesn’t sit well with some people, though. James Gray, one of the protest organisers, explained his objections to the press: “I have two young children in the school system and I don’t want any adult to look at them in a sexual way. Whether or not my daughter is heterosexual or a lesbian in none of their business.”

Whoa there, tiger!

I’m not sure what Mr. Gray thinks he’s protesting, but he won’t get very far with this sort of hyperbole.

Mr. Gray should try a thought experiment and imagine growing up in a world where everyone—his teachers, his principal, his parents—assumed that all students, including him, were gay. As a (presumably) straight male, would he have had a problem with this? Would he feel sexualized? I suggest this experiment, because any objections he has should be identical to those of gay people growing up in today’s school systems.

You see, the new policy has nothing to do with “sexualizing” schools, but rather the reverse. With respect to teaching staff, it trains them to remove the assumption that all boys will end up falling in love with girls, and vice versa. Students are not assumed to be either way, because the assumption would inevitably be wrong for some of them. With respect to students, it means that bullying and harassing students for being (or appearing to be) gay will not be tolerated; being a “fag” will no longer be a focus in the schoolyard.

The policy also means that staff will be better trained to deal with crises. Today, GLBT youth have the highest rate of suicide and depression of any other identifiable group, and proper support systems have demonstrated clear improvements to this statistic. If a student discovers that he or she is different and needs to discuss anything, the school will be prepared to lend any special support that student may want. Students can feel safe with the knowledge that teachers and councilors have not made any assumptions about them and will be open to helping.

Larry Hayes, the Burnaby school board chairman, put it best: “It’s all part of creating a safe, caring and respectful environment for all of our students.”

Social Justice Elective Case Will Go Ahead

May 9th, 2011

Super Helicopter Mom! Assuming the authority to hover over ALL students and regulate their elective studies.

The British Columbia Supreme Court has ruled that a pending human rights challenge regarding a cancelled, optional high school course can go ahead, despite concentrated lobbying efforts by a few parents and lobbyists.

Now, this is a strange and convoluted tale, so please grab a chair, unplug your computer, disconnect all its cables and power supply, and reposition everything next to a fireplace while I regale you with the exciting details.

It starts back in the year 2006.

Social Justice 12, an elective course that includes a unit on the rights and struggles of the GLBT community, was proposed as part of a human rights commission settlement. A ruling found  that the B.C. curriculum was unfairly suppressing information beneficial to gay students, and an optional course that offered this missing information was deemed to be a nice, quick fix.

This did not sit well with the anti-gay lobby. These lobbyists became infuriated by the thought of any information about gay struggles in schools. In a concentrated effort, they called on parents to complain to the school boards. Their efforts worked, at least in one place. Officials in Abbotsford, a small city near Vancouver, panicked and cancelled Social Justice 12 just three weeks before it was scheduled to begin.

(May I re-emphasize at this point that this course was an option, available only to students who elected to take it?)

Now, Abbotsford may be small, but that doesn’t mean everyone’s small-minded. Students, having learned that their selected course was cancelled (and that they’d have to obtain credit elsewhere on very short notice to boot), complained to the schoolboard en masse. Realising the scope of their earlier decision, the board eventually decided to react to the students’ demands, but with a caveat.

Social Justice 12 would be re-introduced, but, unlike other options, each student would require parental permission to take it. Now, that’s all well and good if you’ve got a supportive family, but what about students with unsupportive parents? Particularly students whose parents had lobbied the board to turf the course in the first place, or gay students who haven’t outed themselves yet and feared a harsh reaction?

Essentially, a handful of lobbyists had still decided that no student should be able to decide for themselves whether or not to take this course. This didn’t sit well with Murray Coren, one of the community activists who helped launch the original human rights complaint in 2006. With support of students and parents, an expanded human rights complaint was launched, arguing that instating formal restrictions on the course availability undermines the settlement of the original human rights complaint.

(Hold on a second, I need to throw another log on the fire here. Poke it just a bit… Meh, good enough.)

So, a renewed human rights complaint is now pending with a good chance at success. This sent the anti-gay lobbyists into a rage. If all went as expected, students in their last year of high school would soon be able to take a course about Social Justice at their own discretion. In a pre-emptive strategy, the lobbyists appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, arguing that the human rights case should be dismissed on technicalities. The complainant isn’t a parent, they cried! (Although he was once a student). The complainant doesn’t even live in Abbotsford, they wailed! (Although school curriculum is provincial jurisdiction). But the Supreme Court would hear none of it. As of last week, it was decided that the complaint will go ahead.

It’s not over for the students of Abbotsford, and certainly not of any more relevance to the grade 12 students that have already graduated or are soon to graduate, but a brand new group of students are coming, and soon, this very silly tale will get a new chapter.

So, stay tuned for the exciting conclusion to Holy Crap, What’s The Big Deal?! Also available on audiobook.

Edmonton Schools Adopt Anti-Homophobia Policy

March 14th, 2011

In 2028, the city of Edmonton, having finally broken free, sailed the world.

Let’s start the week with some good news, why not?

The Edmonton Public School District has voted 8-1 to adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward homophobia in each of its schools, making it the first city in the province to officially take such a stance.

The new policy, which will now be researched and drafted by a committee, will ensure that GLBT students in Edmonton will have the support systems they need, and that GLBT staff cannot be discriminated against for their sexual orientation.

Edmonton has always been a little more forward-thinking than other cities in Alberta when it comes to equal rights for the GLBT community, having elected the provinces’ first gay politician (Michael Phair) in 1992, and generally supporting equal rights earlier than elsewhere in the province. It also produced me, Mark, which is very foward-thinking, if I may say so.

At any rate, congratulations Edmonton for supporting students’ rights and helping put an end to homophobic bullying! Here’s hoping other school boards follow suit.

Texas School Blocks GSA By Turfing All School Clubs

March 4th, 2011

A guy wearing an "Everything's Bigot in Texas" shirt.

Flour Bluff Intermediate School—a high school in Corpus Christi, Texas—has shut down all its extracurricular clubs after a student requested the formation of a Gay-Straight Alliance, a peer support group that encourages tolerance and anti-bullying initiatives.

The insane move, which has effectively terminated otherwise unrelated clubs such as the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, was taken by the school administration as a means of banning GSAs without penalty from the Equal Access Act, which would have required the school to provide equal opportunities for student-run clubs, “regardless of their religious, political, and philosophical leanings.”

Well, I guess banning all extracurricular clubs is one way to ensure equality, Texas style!

Halton School Board Re-Bans Gay-Straight Alliances

February 18th, 2011

A student asks for help with a specific math question. The teacher suggests to touch on all questions about all homework instead because it's more inclusive.

The Halton Catholic School Board received a lot of flack this year over banning Gay-Straight Alliances—important peer support systems—in their school system. “We don’t have Nazi groups either,” a representative told the media back in January.

Gay-Straight Alliances are recommended by the Ontario Ministry of Education as a proven means of improving the life of gay youth, giving closeted teens visible role models and support, helping to eliminate homophobic bullying, and reducing instances of teen suicide.

The successes of GSAs made the Halton board’s GSA ban particularly difficult to justify. Faced with a lot of negative media attention over this and its “Nazi” remark, the Halton school board soon announced that they would be introducing a new policy.

Well, that new policy is here. On Wednesday, by a 6 – 3 vote, the school board has re-banned GSAs.

In lieu of GSAs, though, they’ve decided to set up SIDE spaces, a quickly conceived backronym that stands for Safety, Inclusivity, Diversity, and Equity. Essentially, SIDE spaces are support groups designated as safe for everyone, not just gay students.

Now, encouraging safety, inclusivity, diversity, and equity is very important, of course; all schools should do that. But let’s not lose sight of the issue here. SIDE spaces are a solution to a different problem. For a support group to be at all effective, it requires peers facing similar—if not identical—issues. Generic “everyone’s welcome!” support groups are not only an ill replacement for GSAs, they were created expressly to make a ban on GSAs more palatable by offering a substitute that ostensibly includes gay students without the visibility. Denying this visibility sends a message that GLBT students should stay hidden, and denies a place where GLBT students can discuss issues specific to them among peers who are guaranteed to be receptive.

So Boo on the Halton Catholic School Board for completely SIDE-stepping the issue.

Stop Bullying; Support Pink Shirt Day

February 9th, 2011

Three students, bundled beyond recognition in winter gear, celebrate Pink Shirt Day

Two weeks from today is Pink Shirt Day, a movement started in 2007 by two high school students—David Shepherd and Travis Price—after they saw a new student being bullied and harassed for wearing a pink T-shirt. That evening, they purchased as many pink shirts as they could find and then distributed them around the school the next morning, flooding the halls with pink. Since then, the day has become an annual event to help put an end to bullying in schools.

It’s a great idea, so consider this a head’s up for anyone who works at, or goes to, a high school in Canada. Visit http://www.pinkshirtday.ca/ to learn about how you can get your own pink shirt, or make a bulk order for your Gay-Straight Alliance, if you have one. All proceeds go to the Boys and Girls Club of Canada.

Ottawa School Board Wants To Know If You’re Gay

November 5th, 2010

Question six: Tell us the secret you're desperately trying to hide from everyone.

The Ottawa-Carleton District School Board is handing out surveys to each of its students in grades 7 to 12, asking—among other things—whether or not they’re gay.

The survey, which is not anonymous, specifically asks “How do you identify your sexual orientation?” The offered choices include: “Bisexual, Gay (male), Heterosexual (straight), Lesbian (female), Queer, Questioning, Transsexual, Two-spirited,” and “Prefer not to disclose.”

The school board says that knowing the diversity of students will help them correlate it with other data and decide which support avenues and other programs are required.

Well, their heart’s in the right place, even if their brain is locked in a committee meeting room, sipping coffee below buzzing fluorescent lights, contemplating even more excruciatingly dull forms for other people to suffer through.

Here’s my beef with the survey question. Even if every student answers honestly—and they won’t; I wouldn’t have in grade 7—it doesn’t take a survey to conclude that there are gay students in the system that have unique needs to be addressed through support programs. Gay people represent a consistent proportion of the population, they generally have a harder time fitting in at school, they’re more likely to be bullied, and they very much dislike filling out stupid forms. Help ’em out, Ottawa-Careton District School Board!

Exodus Abandons Anti-Gay School Campaign

October 8th, 2010

We at Exodus take bullying seriously, which is why we only shove gays head-first into boxes of spiders with utmost compassion. Almost there, Jack. There you go.

In the wake of four student suicides egged on by homophobic bullying, Exodus Global Alliance has abandoned an anti-gay school program dubbed the Day of Truth.

Since 2005, The Day of Truth took place every year in schools across North America—strategically scheduled to occur one day after the Day of Silence, an anti-bullying campaign designed to draw attention to how gay students must live in silence and fear to avoid harassment. “I’m speaking the truth to break the silence,” Exodus’ pamphelts read, “Exodus network is mobilizing the body of Christ to minister grace and truth to a world impacted by homosexuality.” (Emphasis theirs.)

While Exodus took over the campaign in 2009, it was originally started by the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian-funded legal group who unsuccessfully brought a school to court for suspending a student who wore a disruptive T-Shirt. “Be Ashamed,” it said. “Homosexuality is Shameful.”

It’s not surprising that Exodus wanted to take over the campaign so eagerly; it meshes with their mission perfectly. Exodus’ whole purpose is to promote the idea that gay people are morally corrupt, but can change through prayer and reparative therapy—a notion flatly rejected by all medical and psychological associations. Schools were also beginning to actively reject this message, having seen first-hand the dire harm that suppression and silence does to gay students.

As programs like the Day of Silence grew in popularity, Exodus felt more and more undermined by their effectiveness. Threatened, they lept at the opportunity to bring their unscientific message to schools, providing materials and instruction to schools across the continent. Their efforts immediately enabled bullies with anti-gay slogans and provided adult permission to spread messages of intolerance and shame, adding to the oppression and silence that gays already felt every day. It carefully nurtured the environment in which gay students felt so ashamed and hopeless that some would resort to suicide.

Fortunately, the Day of Truth is not happening this year. At least, not under the supervision of Exodus, who announced their abandonment of the campaign this week. The timing is not a coincidence, either. Just three weeks ago, four students killed themselves in separate incidents, unable to bear the harassment of their classmates. Candelight vigils were held in cities across the U.S. and Canada on Wednesday, and a successful online campaign has received hundreds of thousand of views, urging bullied students to keep hope that things will get better. Faced with growing outrage over the sentiment that they were actively promoting, Exodus had no choice but to end their management of the campaign. They offered no apology or regret, though, and their Day of Truth website now leaves a simple message thanking everyone who participated.

Exodus continues to feign compassion where convenient, but still heartily maintains that gay people are inherently evil and should be subjected to defunct therapies. They are still responsible for the attrocious Love Won Out conference, and for the incalculable misery of those subjected to their unscientific practices. And as long as they can spread this message, their affiliated lobby groups—to whom they ultimately answer—can point to Exodus as evidence that gay people don’t actually exist and therefore don’t need equal rights protections in the law.

Exodus Global Alliance is a registered charity in Canada, and the focus of a campaign I’ve started to help put an end to their tax benefits. Homosexuality is not a disease; it’s not changeable; it does not need to be changed; and no medical or psychological association supports what Exodus is doing. Help put an end to phony charities in Canada and Slap into Action.

School Strips Transgender Student of Homecoming Crown

October 6th, 2010

The creepy burger king mascot gets his crown revoked.

Oakleigh Marshall, a high school senior in Muskegon, Michegan, was voted homecoming king by his classmates only to have the honour revoked by the school because he is transgendered.

Oak, as he is known to classmates, fully identifies as male. All of his teachers use masculine pronouns, he wears a male school band uniform, and will be wearing a male graduation robe when he graduates this year. After being voted as homecoming king by his classmates, though, the school invalidated the ballots and assigned the runner-up as homecoming king instead.

Todd Geerlings, the Assistant Superintendent, said that the school’s decision to invalidate the classmates’ votes was simple because Oakleigh was enrolled in school as a girl, and girls can’t be homecoming king. Oak’s friends and classmates have since set up a Facebook page entitled “Oak is My King,” protesting the school’s decision.

Speaking to the press, Oak expressed that he was happy with all of his friends’ support, but was disappointed at not having something tangible. “I don’t see why there’s any reasons why someone who’s different shouldn’t be on court,” he said. “I have just as much qualifications as anyone else in school.”

Well put. Here’s hoping the school reconsiders their decision, or at least issues an apology.

Special thanks to Slap reader Rebel Jackson for the story!

Ending Homophobic Bullying Is A Priority

September 24th, 2010

A father angrily calls his son's school, saying that telling students to stop bullying gay kids violates his religion.

Two more school districts in B.C. have joined in adopting anti-homophobia policies to help put an end to bullying.

This encouraging news is particularly timely. Earlier this month, Billy Lucas, a 15-year-old student in the United States, hanged himself, unable to bear the taunts and harassment at school. Billy may or may not have been gay, but the bullies all thought he was and harassed him relentlessly for it. It’s especially heartwrenching news because stories like Billy’s are completely preventable. Anti-homophobia policies work, noticeably lowering incidences of bullying.

Still, there’s work to be done. Programs, like those being introduced in B.C., face opposition. Just last May, pressure from a handful of parents lead to the cancellation of anti-homophobia events at Columneetza Secondary School in Williams Lake, B.C. The events were to feature assemblies including guest speakers and a short video about the impact of homophobic bullying in schools. It’s particularly shameful that parents were responsible for the cancellation, sending a signal to the entire school that anti-gay attitudes aren’t just acceptable, they’re important and require parental interference to defend their presence.

Luckily, schools are slowly starting to get the picture, and—in the meantime—there’s lots of other help available. My favourite advice columnist, Dan Savage, recently started the It Gets Better Project. To start it off, he and his husband Terry have posted a video on YouTube sharing their experiences being bullied in school, emphasizing how much better things have gotten since then. It’s an important message, and one that I can personally attest to. I was bullied relentlessly throughout junior high. Other kids taunted me for my skinny build, shoved me against lockers, pushed me to the ground, called me gay and other homophobic slurs, and the Catholic school administration did nothing to help. It was the worst years of my life, but I made it through. And after that, things got a whole lot better.

As for B.C., eleven schools districts now have full anti-homophobic bullying policies enacted, prioritizing the well-being of their students over the misinformed and insensitive complaints from a handful of parents. Here’s hoping the other 60 districts will follow suit.