From gay-straight alliances to educator networks – students of all sexual orientations and gender identities are receiving support for safer and more inclusive schools in British Columbia.
The B.C. Sexual Orientations and Gender Identities (SOGI) Educator Network started as a pilot project.
In just over two years, it has grown province-wide. All 60 B.C. school districts and several independent schools are participating in the B.C. SOGI Educator Network.
SOGI focuses on helping school districts and educators make schools safe and inclusive for students of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
Currently, there are five students utilizing the gender and sexuality alliance support group at Peter Skene Ogden Secondary School.
“I think kids need a safe space,” said Gay-straight Alliance (GSA) teacher sponsor, Lisa Dugaro. “Sometimes they don’t have that at home. Even if there isn’t a lot of overt bullying happening in our school, we see exclusion happening. This space offers them the opportunity to connect with their peers and talk about the issues they face.”
Some of those issues could be the process of coming out, life at home or instances of being bullied.
“They care and they support each other,” said Dugaro.
Even after multiple efforts for safer schools, some students are still facing discrimination. During the 2017-18 school year, the GSA had put up signs advertising the group – when and where to meet. A student stuck a “straight-pride” photo beside one of the posters.
“That instance was handled appropriately, but the students still felt offended,” said Dugaro.
Some of the students in the GSA have vocalized what it’s like living in a smaller community – finding it challenging to make friends or meet individuals who are alike.
In 100 Mile, there are other resources available, such as the Cariboo Gender Support group, which offers transgender people a safe space.
“Every meeting we are getting new people. We share ideas, resources and are building this support group that is for all ages,” said Chris Pettman, who founded the group along with his wife, Mikara.
Pettman and his wife are also involved with the high school’s GSA.
“Younger kids are the better advocates,” said Pettman. “They have more knowledge and they are bringing it to the table. It’s helping a lot of people understand the topics around the LGBTQI2S demographic.”
According to a national survey of Canadian high school students, 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, 40 per cent reported hearing remarks such as “faggot,” “lezbo,” and “dyke” every day in school.
Almost 10 per cent of LGBTQ students reported having heard homophobic comments from teachers daily or weekly (17 per cent of trans students, ten per cent of female sexual minority students and eight per cent of male sexual minority students). Even more, LGBTQ+ students reported that they had heard teachers use negative gender-related or transphobic comments daily or weekly – twenty-three per cent of trans students, fifteen per cent of male sexual minority students and twelve per cent of female sexual minority students.
Hardly any LGBTQ students reported that they never heard homophobic comments from other students (one per cent of trans students, two per cent of female sexual minority students and four per cent of male sexual minority students).
This suggests that if you are a sexual minority student in a Canadian school, it is highly likely that you will hear insulting things about your sexual orientation or gender identity.