After hearing impassioned speeches from public health representatives as well as a parent of a GSM (gender sexual minority) student, school trustees voted in favour of a new GSM policy for the district at the board meeting on June 10.
The policy states that students of gender or sexual minorities experience greater levels of abuse, isolation and discrimination at school than heterosexual students.
Karly Olsen, Health Promoting Schools coordinator SD51, said that a lack of policy can lead to suicide attempts, mental health issues and developing substance abuse.
“These are among if not the most vulnerable students in our district,” said Olsen. “Based on those issues alone, I think these issues really warrant our attention and our efforts.”
The policy quoted research from a study titled Not Yet Equal: The Health of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Youth in BC, which states: “Compared to their heterosexual counterparts, GSM students are more likely to: Experience verbal, physical and sexual abuse at school and discrimination in the community; Report higher levels of emotional stress, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts; and feel less safe and connected to family and school.”
Research has stated that discrimination and suicidal ideation and attempts were lower among GSM students who went to schools with GSM policies than those that did not, said Olsen.
Board chair Teresa Rezansoff said that the GSM policy was originally raised by the Boundary District Teachers’ Association and was then pursued by the board.
A GSM sub-committee was formed which included Olsen, public health nurses Linda Manzon and Heather Shilton, Boundary Teachers’ head Norm Sabourin, superintendent Kevin Argue and school trustee Vicki Gee.
Rezansoff said the board was very moved by the presentations which also included a short speech from a local GSM student.
“It’s always powerful to hear from students and the community,” said Rezansoff. “The board has been supportive of a GSM policy. The work was in getting it to be something that was workable and would meet our goals.”
The new policy is called Respect for Human Diversity: Gender and Sexual Diversity, and states: “The board of education is committed to establishing and maintaining a safe a positive learning and working environment for the entire school community of students, staff and families. This includes those who identify as, or are perceived to be of a gender or sexual minority (GSM).”
Some of the GSM policy regulations include:
Staff development will promote opportunities to increase: awareness and understanding of the GSM community; skills in promoting respect for human rights and diversity; skills to intervene effectively in incidents of discrimination, endangerment, harassment or bullying and provide appropriate student support and referral in a timely manner.
Programs, curriculum and resources will be used to:
Educate students in areas of healthy relationships, diversity and social justice; educate students on the impact of harassment, homophobia and transphobia; encourage teachers to integrate age-appropriate GSM resources throughout a variety of subject areas, so that individuals who identify as GSM see themselves and their lives made visible and reflected positively in the curricula.
Safety, anti-harassment and privacy:
Homophobic, transphobic and heterosexist behaviours, including discrimination, harassment, exclusion and language that stereotypes will not be tolerated. This applies whether the behaviours and language are based on real or perceived GSM identification.
Complaints will be dealt with and consequences will be designed to educate.
All persons have a right to privacy, including the right to keep private one’s GSM identity.
“We’re hoping the policy will create awareness and provide an opportunity for education for staff, students, parents and other members of the school community,” said Olsen. “We’re hoping that eventually GSM students and families will see themselves reflected positively in our buildings through poster in the hallways, books in the library and other school resources. It’s also about examining systemic issues that are faced by GSM students, staff and families like having inclusive language on school forms and the availability of single-stall gender-neutral washrooms. Also, it’s important to note that this policy is not just for GSM students, staff and families; it is for our entire school community. We hope it will help to promote healthier attitudes towards sexuality and gender, which is a part of every human being.”
GSM students and families can access sexual health services through the Public Health unit and the Boundary Options for Sexual Health Clinic. The youth section at the library has a GSM section as well. ANKORS is the regional organization that provides support, resources and advocacy for individuals with a GSM identity.