Four local teachers were honoured June 1 at the French public school board (Conseil des Écoles Publiques de l'Est de l'Ontario) of Eastern Ontario awards ceremony for promoting queer tolerance.
De La Salle high school instructors Yves Carriére, Michelle Goulet and Eric Beevis won an Employees' Building Excellence Award in the innovation category for creating committees and projects that celebrate diversity.
Michaëlle Jean Public School instructor Jonathan Reid was given an award in the leadership category for his promotion of tolerance and acceptance as part of his role as the coordinator of his institution’s well-being and safety committee.
The De La Salle teachers are collectively known as the group of allies. They individually approached the administration of their school to discuss the blatant homophobia they were witnessing. When they learned of each other’s actions, Carriére, Goulet and Beevis banded together to form their group and organize projects to combat injustice in their multicultural school.
Carriére is openly gay and says he has experienced homophobia from students and faculty in the past, although he has noticed more acceptance recently.
“People talk about homophobia more now; it’s better to give tools to teachers and students to fight homophobia or act upon it.”
Initiatives the De La Salle teachers have implemented include the formation of a diversity club (the equivalent of a gay-straight alliance) and schoolwide pink days, to raise awareness against homophobia, and purple days, to pay tribute to queer teens who have committed suicide.
The trio of teachers also organized a human chain around the school, at the suggestion of a student, to bring more visibility to the issue of homophobia.
“We asked the students to form the chain looking inwards towards the school,” Beevis explains. “It symbolically demonstrated that the students were protecting the school. This is a protected zone, protected by the staff and the students.”
Jeremy Dias, founder of Jer’s Vision, says these educators' actions are vastly improving the lives of every student in their school, regardless of their sexual orientation.
“They are transforming the culture of these schools,” Dias says. “They are making it so these kids are not just safe, they are making it so the kids are doing awesome. Kids at these schools don’t just like going to school — they love it. The school board and these specific schools have really supported the LGBTQIA community.”
When the De La Salle instructors founded the diversity club in support of queer students, they were mindful to follow proper procedure to ensure the club would remain intact.
“We had to be careful at the beginning, because of the multiculturalism of our school,” Goulet says. “We had to tread lightly with the school board.”
Goulet went on to say there was very little resistance to the idea of a diversity club, and the majority of the opposition came from a fear of the unknown.
“Most of the resistance came from the unknown factor. We had an open discussion with some of the parents and some of the kids.”
Naturally, a hot topic at the diversity club is bullying. Beevis says that it is the duty of every educator to terminate bullying when they see it happen and that too many teachers claim it's not part of their position.
“The reality is you have been a victim, are in contact with a victim or are yourself an intimidator,” Beevis says. “Many times teachers will say, ‘Oh, that’s not my domain; I teach languages’ or ‘I teach math,’ but we are also teaching the students how to live and how to function. Part of our functioning, part of our living ethics, is to realize that there are bullies.”
Beevis and Goulet are straight yet strongly identify as gay allies. Goulet divulged that when she was a teen, “That’s so gay” was a euphemism she frequently used until a queer friend explained how hurtful the saying was to him. A major catalyst for Goulet confronting her superiors about the homophobia in her school was hearing many of her students using this same phrase.
“[Her high school friend] told me, Every time you say that you hurt my feelings,” Goulet says of the time her friend came out to her.
“There was this one week where that was all I heard in the hallways. Saying ‘That’s so gay’ and kicking their lockers. It was a discussion Eric and I had when we worked in the department. We said, Let’s act on the built-up aggression.”
This trifecta of tolerance plans on aggressively continuing diversity projects when the new school year starts in the fall. Initiatives they will implement for the 2012/2013 academic year include workshops for parents and having queer parents interact directly with students.
The De La Salle teachers are excited about next year’s enterprises and selflessly state that their award belongs to the entire faculty and administration who have supported this endeavour.
“This is not a three-person project,” Carriére says. “It is the whole staff and student body here at De La Salle. It’s a school effort.”