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3 min

Challenging homophobia from 100 Mile House to the Yukon

Diversity and homophobia in northern schools

I am sitting back in my chair wondering where the last six months have gone. The answer is simple: the last six months have gone into my job, my passion.

I spend my days touring northern BC challenging homophobia in the northern school districts, which stretch from 100 Mile House to the Yukon Border.

Last year, in late November, I received word that Youthquest had signed the contract to hire my business, What’s Up Education, to do presentations on diversity and homophobia in BC’s northern schools. I got right to work contacting the northern school districts and their high schools to start booking anti-homophobia presentations.

With the Christmas season and final exams right around the corner, not too many schools were interested in booking presentations for the first winter semester, but the second semester looked promising.

Fast-forward to February of this year. It’s the second semester for students. The high schools in the northern region have, for the most part, been supportive and are booking presentations quite quickly.

The reason schools are booking presentations, I think, relates to a couple of points. The first point is that there are teachers, principals and school trustees that truly do care about all their students and want to work on making the school a friendlier place for everyone.

The second point is that more and more high schools, in the past few years, have had a gay or lesbian student and have had to deal with that student coming out and all the issues that raises.

A number of students have thanked me for coming to their small towns. They said the presentations made them feel comfortable about being who they are.

Looking back, I think one of the biggest successes I saw this year was that 80 percent of the northern school districts actually agreed to let me arrange presentations in their schools.

When I then contacted the schools within those districts to make the arrangements, almost 40 percent of them agreed to let me come without any problems.

Forty percent may not seem like a high number, but for most of these high schools this was the first time they had a presenter approach them to talk about homophobia and sexuality relating to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered youth.

And that 40 percent has already turned into 75 percent for next year. I am just awaiting government funding to arrange the next set of presentations.

I remember doing one presentation, a couple of months ago, in a small city whose downtown is two blocks, maybe. The presentation was going along fine when I asked the class: “Would you be comfortable if your best friend came out as gay/lesbian/ bisexual?”

The class then moved to one side of the room or the other, depending on whether the students would be comfortable or not.

When I asked if anyone wanted to share why they chose their side, one girl put up her hand and said, “Why should it bother me if they are gay ’cause I am.”

I later found out that the girl had not, until that moment, told anyone she was gay.

I guess she finally felt comfortable enough to come out during the presentation. Wow! Talk about making an impact.

Another wonderful feeling is the completion of the Safer Schools committee in School District 57 (Prince George).

The committee was formed three years ago to bring together school district personnel and gay and lesbian community organizations. Its purpose was to look at and develop a strategy to make schools safer for everyone.

School District 57 wanted a northern solution to a northern climate.

The district developed lesson plans for teachers and looked at how to address issues relating to sexuality amongst its staff and students.

This is an important step for the north because it shows the northern school districts that homophobia exists in their area, too, and it offers them some ways to challenge it.

One of the setbacks I faced this year occurred when I phoned one high school in a northern town and was told that they didn’t need any presentations on homophobia since they had no gay or lesbian students and therefore no homophobia problem.

I can’t imagine a school of about 600 students (Grades 8-12) and not one student is gay and not one homophobic comment is being made. Either this school is way ahead of all other schools in the province and has solved the homophobia problem, or it’s way behind and doesn’t want to address the issue. You take your pick.

I look forward to next year’s presentations. By the time I am done this year, I will have talked to 80 different classrooms from 100 Mile House to Prince Rupert to Dawson Creek, plus school district personnel in Fort St John.

All of this in just six short months. This accomplishment could not have happened without the much-needed financial support of the Ministry of Children and Families’ Community Mobilization Program, and the many hours donated by volunteers who co-presented or made arrangements with schools in their areas.

Another big source of support was my partner Michael, who stood by through the presentations and all the travel. After doing a week of presentations, I would come home emotionally drained and he would still be there to comfort me.

So to those volunteers and to Michael I say thank you for taking the time to help make northern British Columbia a truly safe and respectful place to grow up gay, lesbian, bisexual, two-spirited and/or transgendered.