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Students to Clark: walk your anti-homophobia talk

'It can be as hard as a fist in the face or as simple as "that's so gay"': Grade 9 student

"She's a politician," Grade 9 student David Levitt says with a shrug when asked about Premier Christy Clark's approach to the issue of homophobia in schools. "You can't really expect that much. They say they're going to do something and they don't." Credit: Jeremy Hainsworth photo

Grade 9 Vancouver student David Levitt says he tried to hang himself three times using guitar strings he stole from his brother.

Levitt was among several students who implored BC Premier Christy Clark on Feb 28 to heed a Feb 17 letter asking for the implementation of a provincewide anti-homophobia policy.

“Hey, Christy, we need your help. Stop ignoring us,” Levitt says, adding that people “hated me and despised me because I am gay.”

“Homophobia comes in all shapes and sizes,” he says. “It can be as hard as a fist in the face or as simple as three words: ‘That’s so gay.'”

“It’s terrible, and it’s tragic that it can cause such pain,” he says.

Levitt made the comments at a press conference held by the Vancouver District Students’ Council (VDSC), which represents 58,000 students across the city.

They made the announcement in advance of Pink Shirt Day, the annual national anti-bullying awareness campaign, held this year on Feb 29. It was an initiative Clark championed as a talk-show host on CKNW radio.

The students want Clark to take her rhetoric one step further and specifically protect queer students from bullying in schools, says VDSC president Leah Bae, a Grade 12 student.

“The government has been muddy on the subject of an anti-homophobia policy for schools,” the Feb 17 letter to the premier says. “LGBT students need to be protected from homophobic bullying, not only because they are susceptible to bullying, but simply because they require the same protection as every other child in class. The government has a responsibility to protect to the fullest extent these inalienable rights of students.”

The students note that only 25 percent of school districts have specific anti-homophobic-bullying policies.

“Protecting LGBT students is not an issue that can simply be relayed to local school boards to deal with,” the students said to Clark. “You have a responsibility to take care of our children and keep them safe in the schools you put them in.” The students asked the premier to put aside political considerations to deal with the issue.

“Our children’s lives should not be put at risk due to political differences,” the letter says. “Homophobia is alive and well in this province; just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”

The students say that the teaching of equity and equality needs to be extended to the youngest grades.

“Elementary school students need to be taught no single person deserves to be treated differently than another,” the letter says.

“Why LGBT students are not specifically protected baffles me,” VDSC vice-president Jennifer Yoon adds. “I’ve seen dear friends once full of life whither away because they couldn’t hold hands with who they liked. Nobody should be afraid.

“Premier Clark, I ask you directly, please protect our kids, protect us.”

The letter came about when the students went to gay Vancouver West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert and asked for help.

“This is an urgent issue,” he said, noting that Clark had recognized the need to do something about the issue more than a year ago.

Clark was courting the queer vote when she visited The Oasis on Davie St on Jan 8, 2011.

“If I become premier, one of the very clear directives I am going give to the education minister is I want you to deal with bullying in schools as a top priority,” Clark told Xtra at the time.

“I think school districts have to fight every kind of bullying that’s out there. Homophobic bullying is the number one form of it, so yes, they have to make sure that’s part of what they’re targeting when they target bullies,” she said.

“Since then, we’ve had zero activity,” Chandra Herbert says.

Levitt just shrugs when asked about Clark’s actions. “She’s a politician,” he tells Xtra. “You can’t really expect that much. They say they’re going to do something and they don’t.

“She’s shown we’re really no different than our neighbour to the south,” he adds.

While many school districts do not specifically target homophobic bullying, the education ministry maintains that all 60 districts have reported that codes of conduct are in place.