Mar. 30, 2011 - Issue #806 : Insidious
Committed to diversity
New policy will protect Edmonton's LGBT students
On Tuesday, March 8 the Edmonton Public School Board (EPSB) voted to establish a policy to protect and support LGBT students and staff in the district's schools. The policy, while still in the development stage, will be the first of its kind in Alberta.
Trustee Christopher Spencer presented a motion to develop a policy that would clearly articulate EPSB's commitment to create supportive, respectful and safe environments for LGBT peoples. Applauding the motion, Sarah Hoffman said that this marks a very important first step: actually acknowledging that LGBT people exist and that they account for a significant part of the public school population. The action is true to liberal rights politics' modus operandi: first you have to name the oppressed group and then give them rights and protections. And while my cynicism towards liberal rights is threatening to rear its head, I think this policy is a needed and promising precedent.
According to Hoffman, the EPSB conducted a safety survey in the fall and it showed that 91 percent of junior high and high school students feel safe in their schools. Parents/guardians answered the survey for elementary school students and responded that 94 percent of their children feel safe in their schools. While these statistics may seem positive, they mean that six to nine percent of students do not feel safe at school, and according to Hoffman, this reality is not acceptable. The recently publicized incidents of teen suicides that were connected to homophobic and transphobic bullying certainly show that some schools are failing to protect, much less support their students. Hoffman states these cases were influential in establishing the EPSB policy which seeks to attain safety through education as opposed to punishment.
While it's good to aspire to an ideal notion of safety, safety is a difficult phenomenon to measure. Homophobia and transphobia manifest as physical violence but also as the routinized silencing of "abnormal" people. Thus, in addition to creating a safe environment it is also important to create an environment where all students feel empowered to question, experiment with and express their gender and sexuality: all things that Bill 44 has threatened and that the EPSB has sought to address.
A section of the provincial government's Bill 44, passed June 2009, introduced parental rights provisions requiring school boards to notify parents "where courses of study, educational programs or instructional materials, or instruction or exercises, prescribed under the [School] Act include subject-matter that deals explicitly with religion, sexuality or sexual orientation." Proponents of Bill 44 claim that they are protecting children from the promotion of particular sexualities or religions as being superior. Opponents of the bill, including myself, argue that this move completely suffocates students and teachers' ability to inquire about or discuss issues to do with sexual orientation and religion. Ultimately, under this bill, schools may become a hostile environment for diversity and honest discussion and dialogue about sensitive yet important issues.
The EPSB has made a commitment to empowering its students by fostering a community that is respectful of diversity. To this end, Hoffman said that the EPSB has exhibited courage in standing up for LGBT students and staff, especially in the face of a provincial government that seems intent on not ignoring but actively silencing LGBT citizens. V
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