Students are speaking out against the Vancouver School Board’s (VSB) proposal to eliminate the district’s anti-homophobia mentor as part of its planned $24 million budget cuts.
“I think that having an anti-homophobia mentor is extremely important for keeping LGBTQ students safe,” says Kate Fry, a Grade 12 student at Lord Byng Secondary, who spoke to a packed public consultation at the school board on April 14, 2016.
“I ask the board to consider that by removing the anti-homophobia mentor, they are removing for some of us one of the few — possibly the only adult — available to them as a support and advocate,” she says.
For Avery Shannon, a Grade 12 student at Templeton Secondary, the mentor has been key to finding and accessing services available to LGBT students.
“VSB’s anti-homophobia mentor reached out to me and all of the other trans students and all of the other queer-straight alliances across the district,” says Shannon, who uses the gender-neutral pronoun “they.”
Shannon acknowledges the chronic underfunding of various programs and services but implores the board to consider the vital importance of the mentor to queer and gender-variant students.
“Our anti-homophobia mentor directly impacts the safety of LGBTQ students,” they say.
Dylan Read, who recently graduated from Lord Byng, says the current anti-homophobia mentor, Stephanie Lofquist, gave them the courage to come out toward the end of Grade 12.
“I felt safe to be 100 percent myself because I knew that Stephanie was going to be there to protect me and to make sure everything was going to be okay,” Read told Daily Xtra before the school board meeting.
“I love Stephanie to death but even if it’s not Stephanie the importance of her position is to give kids the confidence to be who they are in their school, and to feel safe in their own schools to be LGBTQ and to be out.”
Morgane Oger, chair of Vancouver’s Trans Alliance Society, also attended the meeting to urge the board “to continue to act proactively as the leader for sexual orientation and gender diversity support for the province.”
She asked the board to adopt recommendation 21 of the BC Select Standing Committee on Children and Youth’s final report about children and mental health, which calls on all school districts to “support sexual and gender minority youth in schools through general and targeted programs to address child and youth mental health issues.”
“It is a sad irony that the province is causing the Vancouver School Board to cut the support system for LGBTQ students and staff in its schools, rendering it less effective at supporting the very students that recommendation 21 seeks to help,” she said.
BC’s education minister Mike Bernier says budget decisions are entirely up to the school boards.
“It’s disappointing that some members of the VSB choose to shortchange students and parents by funding empty classrooms instead of supporting important programs such as this one. These are school district decisions,” Bernier told Daily Xtra in an April 8 email.
By law, BC school boards are required to balance their budgets.
The VSB will vote on the preliminary budget proposal on April 28, 2016.