Queer Education

Last week, a high school student I know sent me a message with some questions he had about, well, being gay. The questions were good ones, and I gave a lengthy response that I thought I would duplicate here…

we are talking in social class about descrimination in canada. my group got assigned descrimination based on orientation. so my question is is discrimination against gays as prevalent and widespread as the media sometimes portrays? and also does the fact [that] such a big deal is made about gay pride and the like, keep perpetuating the discrimination?? and to what extent should schools (not post secondary) embrace diversity in regards to orientation?? should schools have gay pride rallys [sic] and similar events??

[My response:] Excellent, excellent questions. Let’s see if I can do them any justice…

While in some places — big cities, say, like Toronto and Montreal and Vancouver — being gay doesn’t face very much discrimination day to day, there’s still a lot out there. In the last year or so there were something like half a dozen violent gay bashings in Vancouver alone (we’re talking people getting verbally abused and beat up, requiring emergency hospital visits, facial reconstruction, and in one case long-term coma and eventual death, just for holding hands with another man in the gay village). And while there’s a lot of acceptance by some people, I’m sure there are many who just don’t say anything out loud.

Furthermore, the farther you get from a major city, on average, the worse it is. There was a lot of latent homophobia in Whitby [Ontario, where I used to live]. It is, of course, generally worse as well in religious communities, where parents have a tendency of trying to impose their religious values on publicly-funded schools (which is, by the way, against the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms).

There’s a city here in BC called Abbotsford, which is a very religious community out in farm country about an hour and a half from Vancouver. There’s a lot of discrimination there — the BC schools created a high school course called Social Justice 12 that discussed, among other things, social equality for LGBTQ people. So many parents in Abbotsford protested the course (which, let’s be clear, was optional) that the Abbotsford school board removed it from the curriculum.

Homophobia is, on average, also worse in older populations. It was the parents who had a major problem in Abbotsford; many students protested the removal of the course, held Pride rallies, and eventually got the course reinstated.

But as much as things are better in younger crowds, there’s still tons of homophobia among youth. How often do you hear “that’s so gay” in the hallways, or people calling each other “fag”? To put that in perspective — that’s about as bad for a straight person to say as it is for a white person to use the N-word.

To skip to your third question, schools are in fact the most important place to begin education and acceptance of the diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity (which are, by the way, different but equally important issues; I’d highly suggest a bit of research into that. For instance, do you know the difference between sex and gender?). Schools are where kids, teens, can actually get some education about these issues. Teachers have a responsibility to the youth to share this education — if a school has any public funding (that is, from the government), it’s bound by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which includes protecting against discrimination based on sexual orientation.

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