The Richmond school board voted unanimously to develop a stand-alone policy on sexual orientation and gender identity, after students revealed the homophobia they face.
“Unfortunately, despite it being 2016, Richmond schools are still behind when it comes to the acceptance of LGBTQ+ students,” Alyssa Osten, from Steveston-London secondary school’s Rainbow Club, told the school board on Nov 7, 2016.
“Discriminatory slurs such as ‘homo,’ ‘faggot’ and ‘tranny’ are all too common in Richmond schools,” Osten told the packed meeting.
“The Rainbow Club has also collected several pieces of homophobic, transphobic and biphobic vandalism over the past two years,” she said.
Someone carved the word “gay” into a gay student’s locker — “this carving happened three years ago and it still has not been removed.”
Many of these incidents are documented on the Rainbow Club’s website petitioning the school district for a policy.
Steveston-London student Daphne, who asked that Daily Xtra not disclose her last name for reasons of personal safety, hopes a separate policy will help counter the anti-gay harassment that she faced in Richmond schools.
“When I told the teacher that a student was calling me a ‘faggot,’ the teacher just laughed at me and said, ‘how cute.’ And it just made me feel abandoned by my teacher and I went home crying,” she told the board.
“I had a dysfunctional family when I was young and I would always ask myself, ‘If home is not safe and school is not safe, where should I go?’” she said.
“I always felt so lost. I never found a place for myself, and the homophobia perpetrated by my classmates and my teacher effects me to this day.”
Steveston-London student Nathan Lee, who formed his school’s gay-straight alliance (GSA) Rainbow Club, says teachers need to be educated about LGBT issues.
“We weren’t even engaging with the teacher and he kept to himself for most of the class,” Lee tells Daily Xtra. “He decides out of nowhere at the end of the meeting to say, ‘hey you should all look up Joe Dallas because he had similar experiences to you all.’ Another club member told me that he mentioned that was their homework. To look him up. And we were all like “oh cool” we thought he might have been a supportive teacher at another school — and then we found out who this Joe Dallas was.”
Lee says teacher training on LGBT issues could prevent incidents like this from occurring in the future.
Former Rainbow Club member Kaylyn Munro says a policy should contain preventative measures and teacher education that is often lacking in codes of conduct and guidelines.
“It’s hugely important to have resources for teachers, admin and staff, just so teachers are aware and knowledgeable and can handle situations, and know to ask students for pronouns without crossing boundaries,” she says. “You can expect to have incompetent peers, but when you have teachers give that off it’s a terrible situation.”
Richmond is one of only two school districts in the Lower Mainland without a stand-alone anti-homophobia policy.
Board chair Debbie Tablotney says that’s a timing issue and not a reflection of the district’s commitment to the safety of LGBT students.
“The last board discussed it in 2014 and felt that it was up to the new board to put the policy in place or to discuss the policy,” she tells Daily Xtra. “Within that time our superintendent retired and we entered into a long-range facilities plan as well, so we didn’t want it to get lost.
“We were also working on it the whole time with our code of conduct working group, and they had been meeting regularly, and so we are waiting for that to finish and a draft policy to be drawn up,” she says.
Tablotney expects the new policy will come to the board for a final vote in time for the 2017-2018 school year.
Trustee Donna Sargent introduced a motion to direct staff to investigate the development of a stand-alone anti-homophobia policy and report back to a future board meeting.
Richmond superintendent Sherry Elwood offered the support of staff and administration.
“We know as educators that we learn best from our students, just like you learn best from each other, so on behalf of senior staff we would be more than pleased to support the board if they follow through with this motion in the development of a policy, we would be pleased to do so,” she said.