No more pencils. No more books. No more dirty, homophobic looks.
As New Brunswick schools close their doors for summer, a group of teachers are beginning work to end homophobia in the hallways.
During a recent New Brunswick Teachers Association (NBTA) sponsored workshop called Creating Allies for Gay Youth, high school teacher Shawn Corey stood up amongst his colleagues and asked what was going to happen next.
“You go to these things and nothing practical ever comes out of it,” he says.
The Fredericton-native, now teaching at Sir James Dunn Academy in St Andrews, wants to see gay-straight alliances (GSA) and anti-homophobia education in the province’s middle and high schools. He suggested — to the crowd at the one-day conference — that a steering committee form and put words into action.
The committee had its first meeting at the end of May and while plans for incorporating anti-homophobia education into school programs are still in the early stages, by this time next year, the group wants to see a two-day conference for both students and teachers, forming an interactive network of GSAs around the province.
The NBTA, says Corey, is fully supportive and intends to hold a second workshop mid-autumn.
The Department of Education unfortunately has not put the same support behind the cause, says conference organizer Richard Blaquiere.
He acknowledges there are individuals within the department who are helpful and encouraging of such initiatives, however, when it comes to officially endorsing such a project, they claim this work falls outside of their mandate.
“The department has one thing on its mind,” he says, “improving scores in literacy and math and if something doesn’t fit into their clearly defined niche … it’s not considered for financing.”
Government funding already goes out to for native studies programs, support for children with special needs, but not for the needs gay and lesbian kids, he says. “They should care for all children.”
Lack of money from the province hasn’t stopped him from making changes at his school, says the Woodstock High social studies teacher. He’s been offering lessons on gay rights, with the backing of his district, since 2003, when he also started a GSA for his students.
Corey sees Blaquiere’s success in this area as an inspiration for the work he and other teachers are now striving to do.
His own ambitious efforts over the last year at Sir James Dunn Academy are an example of how the education system can put an end to ignorance and hatred. He organized a professional development workshop, informing his co-workers about the need for a more gay-friendly atmosphere. He instructed classes in all grades about tolerance and acceptance and he recently coordinated the school’s Week Against Homophobia.
Along with the support of Principal David O’Leary, and the 15-member teaching staff, Corey has made homophobia “uncool.”
From May 19 to 22, students in all grades decorated the school in rainbow colours, sold Pride cookies and pins, watched documentaries and listened to speeches. The Week against Homophobia activities were endorsed by the school’s student council, and the senior boys’ rugby team even participated in the rainbow flag ceremony.
“The expectation from the young people in our school,” he says, “is that you don’t say homophobic things: through the youngest grades right through to the older grades, both boys and girls.”
This is a marked difference from the start of school last fall, when calling someone a “fag” was a regular occurrence. The new queer-positive atmosphere, he says, has encouraged a few students to come out to their classmates, just in the last few weeks.
Things have changed greatly since Corey was a student at Fredericton High School, in the late 1980s.
“It’s night and day,” he says. “As a teacher or a student you would have never dreamt of saying you want to start a gay-straight alliance.”
There is an increasing number of GSAs throughout the province, he says, including the one at his school.