2 min

London trustees shock students

Activists want anti-homophobia support in schools

Queer students in London, Ontario say they feel unsafe after trustees of the Thames Valley District School Board made homophobic comments while giving a cold shoulder to some recommendations that would support gay people in schools.

The 17-point report, which followed months of meetings and discussions, failed to be fully adopted at an April meeting.

The debate itself shocked attendees more than the failure to pass the recommendations; several people walked out in disgust.

“It was really pretty awful, to be quite honest,” says Joanne King, mom to an adult gay son, and one of the facilitators of the London Parents, Family And Friends Of Lesbians And Gays (PFLAG) group. “It’s scary that our trustees haven’t taken the time to educate themselves. I was actually embarrassed for some of them. I couldn’t believe these educated people were sitting there saying these things.”

Trustee Stewart Deller, who attendees said was one of the biggest perpetrators of anti-gay rhetoric at the meeting, did not return Xtra’s calls.

The London Free Press reports Deller saying the recommendations come from “a minority that’s trying to steal away the rights of the majority and it’s not appropriate…. We will protect you but don’t push it on everybody else and say that it should be normalized.”

Jason Yeoman, an 18-year-old grade 12 student, dropped out of high school last semester when the homophobia of his fellow students got the best of him.

“I was being harassed by the football team. It was mostly verbal harassment, anti-gay slurs towards me. ‘You’re a faggot,’ and ‘You’re a queer.’ Sometimes they were throwing things,” Yeoman says. “A small reprimand was made to the football team but other than that no one was punished.”

Yeoman, who made a presentation to the board, says changes are needed.

“A lot of issues are being brought up and swept under the rug,” Yeoman says. “There are no serious set consequences for harassing someone due to their sexual orientation, whether physically or verbally, unless it warrants police intervention.”

The ad hoc committee that made the recommendations was formed last fall, pushed by a local organization called Seen And Heard: Youth Anti-Violence Education Project.

“London doesn’t have a huge amount of resources for queer youth,” says project creator and coordinator Julie Glaser. “One of the things that came forth was the chronic hate crimes, discrimination, harassment and high dropout rates that queer youth are facing in the school system.”

One of the conclusions was that the school board was exercising systemic discrimination by not giving support in schools. Glaser pulled together a group of 75 youth at the Social Justice Now conference and rallied on school board grounds last summer.

The board did support four of the recommendations, including a motion to deal with all incidents of harassment consistently, a motion to ask the provincial education minister for curriculum that would address hate-motivated violence against gay and lesbian students, a motion to have a queer-positive staff outreach person and a motion that would compel principals and managers to talk about equity awareness with staff each school term.