In early June, NDP MP Dany Morin called upon his fellow legislators to take action against a very real quandary facing queer youth. Morin’s call to create a special committee to muscle bullying out of Canada’s schools was applauded by those who know what it’s like to be aggressively tormented by their peers.
This is one of many reasons that queer kids need gay-straight alliances, especially in Catholic schools.
The first duty of Catholic or public school teachers should be to the students they are tasked with guiding through the most challenging time in their lives. Why is this so hard for some teachers?
From my personal experience being bullied as a queer teen, I can say that inaction by educators was as bad as if they were the bullies themselves.
I attended Catholic schools twice, in the seventh and eighth grades. I was bullied at the Catholic schools but not to the extent I was in the first few months of the eighth grade, when I attended Stephen Leacock Public School in Kanata.
My parents had recently separated, and my mother, sister and I moved around a lot in the months following their split. On my first day at Stephen Leacock I was apprehensive and nervous, but everyone was very nice to me. On the second day, my entire class, except one girl, conspired to collectively bully me. They would say my name, then when I turned around they’d say “fag.” This happened dozens of times per day until I moved in with my father to escape the homophobia. The most unsettling aspect of this discrimination was that I remember looking to the teachers, pleading with my eyes for them to do something. Numerous times they would simply stare back at me, smirking; their eyes seemed to be dancing with delight. Or they would look away, pretending they didn’t hear anything.
It is completely unfathomable to me that teachers could sit back and let this happen. Their inaction made them the bullies, too.
In the aftermath of the passage of Bill 13 some conservative writers have frequently said that teachers always protect gay students from bullying. We know that is not true.
I had some great teachers throughout my education. Teachers who fostered my creative side and helped me develop into the person I am today. I also had some reprehensible teachers who were prejudiced and had no business being educators.
A few years after I left Stephen Leacock, while I was waiting for a bus late at night at Baseline Station, I ran into two of the people who had bullied me. One recognized me instantly and began apologizing for what she’d done; she continued through the entire bus ride back to Kanata. I said I accepted the apology, even though I honestly did not. What they did to me should never have happened in the first place. I don’t forgive the teachers who should have stopped it, either.
We need GSAs in every school, be they Catholic or public. Teachers are human. Many are flawed. Will queer kids get socially responsible instructors or teachers who are petty and filled with hate? It’s like rolling the dice. GSAs need to be in place in case a queer kid rolls the latter.