After almost 17 years, Gay and Lesbian Educators of BC (GALE) is scaling back its activities and returning to its roots in mentorship.
GALE voted at its Nov 4, 2006 meeting to suspend many of its activities, including producing new publications for teachers, pushing the BC Teachers’ Federation and its locals to take action on queer issues, producing newsletters five times a year, commenting to the media except in unusual circumstances and providing regular workshops.
GALE plans to refocus its resources on mentoring teachers, offering resources to gay-straight alliances (GSAs) and hosting social events.
Political and social changes over the past decade led to the decision, says GALE spokesperson Steve LeBel.
“I know most of the people at the Ministry of Education and Attorney General are on side,” he says. “Maybe not everyone, but most.”
LeBel cites the settlement between Murray and Peter Corren and the BC Ministry of Education reached in the spring of 2006 as one indication that GALE has reached some of its primary goals.
In the settlement, the Correns won a hand in creating an optional Grade 12 social justice course and a commitment from the ministry to review all curriculum to ensure queer inclusion.
LeBel says it’s the government’s commitment to examine every course that pleases him most. Although that process will likely take up to six years, it’s a good start, he says.
LeBel also points to dwindling human resources as another reason to scale back GALE’s work. Some of the group’s long-time members are retiring, and teaching has become more work than it was 15 years ago, leaving teachers with less time for extracurricular activities.
“School is getting more tiring,” he says.
But there’s still work to be done. Homophobic attitudes in some communities are still daunting, he says.
“It can be hard for teachers to be out. It’s true for a lot of straight allies too,” explains LeBel, noting rather than outright discrimination, some school communities simply omit queer people and their allies from social situations.
“I’m excited about the idea of letting young teachers know we’re there for mentoring,” he continues. “We started as a social and mentorship group.”
Much of the mentoring and peer support will be offered on a one-to-one basis and details of precisely how that system will work are still in the planning stages. “We’ve been hearing from teachers that this is what they’d like,” adds LeBel.
GALE will also continue to offer GSA bursaries to schools and scholarships to graduating high school students, and plans to hold a GSA conference on Vancouver Island in the spring.
In the meantime, LeBel is optimistic other groups will step in to pick up any slack left by the changes at GALE, noting the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation already offers LGBT workshops to its members.
He lists other resources that are available to queer students and teachers as well. Out in Schools, a program that brings queer-themed movies to BC high schools, is making gains and trying to get curriculum approved; and The Centre’s Gab Youth Services has made strides in the Lower Mainland.
Though many of these changes have been centred in the urban areas of BC, LeBel hopes adult queer groups in smaller communities will also continue to help. He credits, for example, the queer community in Kamloops with making the Okanagan more homo-friendly.
Change has also come to smaller areas like the Gulf Islands, where members of the Salt Spring Island high school GSA and a teacher were instrumental in implementing a district-wide anti-homophobia policy, says LeBel.
Rather than trying to impose change from outside, he says, “People in the district will make a bigger difference.”
LeBel has been active with GALE since November of 1991, one year after it was formed. When asked what he is most proud of, he says, “Raising issues of LGBT teachers, staff and students to the public at large, getting people to talk and raising the issue to school boards.”
He says educators and activists across Canada have told him that BC is far ahead of other provinces with respect to queer education issues and that attitudes of the general public have changed as a result.
“People weren’t equating their high school years to the youth of today,” he says. “There was the attitude that life started after high school.”