For­get tol­er­ance; let’s talk about ac­cep­tance

The Compass - - OPINION - BY NATHAN WHALEN — Nathan Whalen is pres­i­dent of the New­found­land and Labrador Fed­er­a­tion of School Coun­cils and can be reached at pres­i­dent@school­coun­cil­snl.ca.

I talk a lot about bul­ly­ing: who’s most likely to be a bully or be a tar­get and why.

It seems like our cul­ture is more aware of it than ever and yet it still oc­curs at alarm­ing rates. I think much of the prob­lem has to do with how as adults, we aren’t aware when we ex­hibit bully-like be­hav­iour, es­pe­cially when the lit­tle ones are watch­ing. We all know it’s a big prob­lem and we task the ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem with find­ing a so­lu­tion.

But what we don’t spend much time talk­ing about is how what we think, say, and do can marginal­ize oth­ers and make people that iden­tify as a vis­i­ble mi­nor­ity feel worth­less or un­safe. We all un­der­stand that at its core, bul­ly­ing is about power and vul­ner­a­bil­ity.

“Ev­ery Class in Ev­ery School,” pub­lished in 2011, is the first na­tional high school sur­vey ever con­ducted to in­ves­ti­gate what life at school is like for stu­dents that iden­tify as a gen­der or sex­ual mi­nor­ity.

Ac­cord­ing to the study con­ducted by Egale Canada Hu­man Rights Trust, “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 — 48 per cent — re­ported hear­ing re­marks such as fag­got, lezbo, and dyke ev­ery day in school.”

Lan­guage a fac­tor

This is an alarm­ing statistic as the com­mon use of anti-LGBTQ lan­guage con­trib­utes to a cul­ture of bul­ly­ing and ha­rass­ment of LGBTQ stu­dents and makes these stu­dents feel even more marginal­ized.

Much re­search has been con­ducted to sup­port that these same stu­dents are more likely to be the vic­tim of bul­ly­ing, be phys­i­cally or ver­bally ha­rassed, drop out of school, ex­pe­ri­ence men­tal health prob­lems, and are even more likely to com­mit self-harm or sui­cide.

More­over, this same study sug­gests that, “al­most 10 pre cent of non-LGBTQ youth re­ported be­ing phys­i­cally ha­rassed or as­saulted about their per­ceived sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion or gen­der iden­tity and more than 10 per cent re­ported be­ing phys­i­cally ha­rassed or as­saulted be­cause of their gen­der ex­pres­sion.”

It starts at home

In New­found­land and Labrador, we have been very pro­gres­sive in how we are mak­ing school and home life safer and more com­fort­able for both youth that iden­tify as LGBTQ and those that do not.

How­ever, it takes more than sim­ply ac­knowl­edg­ing that LGBTQ in­di­vid­u­als ex­ist and “tol­er­at­ing them.” Tol­er­ance is not im­pact­ful enough to shape our cli­mate and cul­ture to nur­ture our ap­prox­i­mately 1 in 10 les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual, trans, and queer youth and adults. We need to ac­cept them.

How can you help as a par­ent of com­mu­nity mem­ber? Whether you’re a par­ent of a child that is LGBTQ, LBGTQ iden­ti­fy­ing yourself, or if you iden­tify as straight, you can still be an ally in pro­mot­ing a safe and pos­i­tive cli­mate for your school com­mu­nity.

Be­ing an ally starts at home. From how you make an ef­fort to in­clude di­verse and pos­i­tive por­tray­als of LGBTQ in­di­vid­u­als in your own home or en­sur­ing you do not use ho­mo­pho­bic or trans­pho­bic slurs com­mon in school­yard con­ver­sa­tion, chil­dren in your care will cer­tainly no­tice. Es­tab­lish­ing bound­aries in your home help­ing ev­ery­one un­der­stand that ho­mo­pho­bia, bi­pho­bia, and trans­pho­bia are not ac­cept­able and po­litely re­mind­ing in­di­vid­u­als when they mis­step these bound­aries will make a con­sid­er­able im­pact.

Sup­port­ive net­works

If you’re in­volved in your child’s school, ask whether or not a Gay Straight Al­liance is ac­tive in your school and be sure to pro­mote and sup­port their ef­forts. GSAs help to cre­ate safe spa­ces and ac­tively fos­ter aware­ness and in­clu­sion. These groups can be pow­er­ful sup­port net­works for stu­dents and the en­tire school com­mu­nity; be sure to sup­port them.

In 2011, the provin­cial govern­ment launched the myGSA.ca re­source for teach­ers, par­ents, and stu­dents. How­ever, we all need to work to­gether to fos­ter safer schools and a safer prov­ince for our young people. Will you be a part­ner in ac­cep­tance?

For more in­for­ma­tion about how you can help, please visit www.mygsa.ca.

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