A five-day schedule of activities to raise awareness about homophobia has run into parental opposition at a Cariboo-Chilcotin secondary school.
The activities, planned a month ago and spearheaded by the gay-straight alliance (GSA) at Columneetza Secondary School, were expected to start on Monday, May 17 with a couple half-hour long informative assemblies, including a video that showcased students’ experiences with homophobia and its impact.
The assemblies were cancelled, Jolene Veitch, a member of Columneetza’s GSA told Xtra on May 17.
Veitch says another event, a walk away from homophobia, was moved to the lunch hour on Wednesday, May 19.
But she says she’s uncertain if the walk, which could take up to an hour, can still go on because of time constraints.
Lunch is usually 30 to 40 minutes long, she points out.
District superintendent Diane Wright says she requested that the anti-homophobia walk occur during the lunch hour to avoid students being out of class twice in one week, 20 days before final exams.
“It had come to my attention that some parents were concerned that two of the activities were happening during class time, and they didn’t feel there had been adequate notification in one case, Wright says.
GSA members say that’s “ridiculous.”
Veitch says there are a lot of assemblies throughout the school year that “take away from really important academic courses,” yet those aren’t targeted for cancellation.
“The unfortunate piece is that the planning took place in a very short time frame, and the details of the programming weren’t evident early enough,” Wright says.
“We had every approval we needed,” Veitch insists, adding it’s “a bit outrageous” to cancel the assemblies, because they were “purely educational.” Moreover, Veitch notes, the GSA was only told in the afternoon on Friday, May 14 that some of the programming was being cancelled.
Veitch also says the reason given for the cancellations — that classes were being interrupted — became evident later over the past weekend.
“That was a completely new revelation,” Veitch says. “We were like, ‘why weren’t we informed of this weeks ago?'” Veitch asks.
A gender bender day, which was also approved and scheduled for Friday, May 21, has also been pulled, she adds.
Wright says that event was cancelled because it “became evident that some of the students were going to participate in a way that would not be effective to promote tolerance.
“It would be counter-productive,” she adds.
That’s the feedback the principal received from some students and parents, Wright says.
She says she’s not prepared to discuss the details about the information received.
“A lot of parents were concerned that there would have been too much skin exposed, essentially,” Veitch explains.
“It was, ‘Oh, well, what if these kids dressed in a manner that isn’t tasteful,’ like guys wearing really, really short skirts and just showing a lot of everything.
“Of course, we were going to inform the students, if you’re dressing up for gender bender day, make sure it abides by the dress code,” Veitch elaborates. “So no mini-skirts, no really exposing anything, keep it really tasteful to respect the school.”
Ultimately, Veitch says, the goal of the gender bender day is to represent “breaking down gender barriers.”
“We were going to do that during the assemblies but we didn’t get that chance,” the 17-year-old says.
Veitch says she’s aware some students plan to dress up on Friday anyway, despite the cancellation of gender bender day.
“As long as it’s completely tasteful, no student should be sent home,” she says. “That was one of the warnings we were given.”
A rainbow day and a free hugs and face painting day are the other events that are expected to go on.
“We find that if we take homosexuality on, it’s ridiculed in this town,” says Veitch, who identifies as bisexual.
“We’re trying to work towards breaking that down.”
Before “all the drama with the cancellations,” the school’s atmosphere was very hostile towards queers, with “a lot of hateful slurs being thrown around in the hallways,” says Veitch.
Since the cancellation of some of the week’s activities, however, Columneetza has become more welcoming, Veitch observes.
“A lot more students are showing a lot more support for the GSA, saying ‘[the cancellations aren’t] exactly fair, we’re here to support you now,'” Veitch notes.
She says over time she’s been working on getting friends in her own circle to stop using homophobic slurs, even if in jest.
But it’s an uphill battle, she acknowledges.
“They watch TV a lot and they’re aware of the media, and TV’s been using [that’s so gay] quite a lot lately,” Veitch notes.
“Our board recently passed a new policy called safe, caring and orderly schools, and it really speaks to our expectation for tolerance of all people,” Wright emphasizes.
“There is a section in here that speaks particularly to the [school] board recognizing that students and other school community members identifying as lesbian, gay et cetera, need to be treated respectfully and with tolerance,” she says.
“We do recognize that that is something that has been brought to our attention as needing to be addressed.”
Beginning this spring, she adds, individual school codes of conduct will be developed to address “all the issues” in the BC Human Rights Code, including sexual orientation.