Tuesday, March 15, 2011

School sucks.

"The answer would be no." - Gerald Casey, Bruce-Grey Catholic District School Board Superintendent of Education.

When asked if a Gay Straight Alliance would be permitted in their school, he responded that 'the answer would be no.'

Having finished high school just years before GSAs became relatively common, I never had the opportunity to benefit from them. Indeed, even with them in place I do not think that many students of sexual minorities take advantage of the opportunity that is allowed to them - and the valuable resources that GSAs have access to. But, and this is a massive but, they remain an important fixture of high school cultures in fighting social homophobia in school cultures - in classrooms, changerooms, hallways; among teachers, students, and visitors. They make it clear that sexual minorities matter. And they provide a potential safe place in a world without safe places - the only of its kind available.

So, when a school board would deny this safety to some of its students, one must ask upon which educational basis they are doing so. And the obvious answer is that it isn't based on any educational philosophy, as most modern ones recognize the importance of safe spaces in schools for people who self-identify as a minority. Unfortunately, it is upon the basis of religion that Catholic sexual minorities, including those individuals who are not catholic, are forced to remain in the closet. Not that I would suggest Catholics support hatred in any way (I think that many are very good at fighting it as best they can), but I would suggest that they are very slow at adopting the gay rights bandwagon.

Xtra.com, a Canadian Gay News Website, recently surveyed all of the Catholic School Districts in Ontario and asked them if they supported or had operating in their schools a GSA. None of them could confirm the existence of any.


In Corpus Christi, Texas, at Flour Bluff Intermediate School, all school clubs have been discontinued. So that a GSA could not be started. Which just makes sense, right? I mean, rather than overcome our discriminations and prejudices, we should make sure that everybody is treated fairly (and that, once again the gays get blamed for the cancellation of much beloved programs).

Schools need to become aware of how they are producing a culture of hatred and, at my most possibly kind, indifference. Failing to include sexual minorities in a school culture ill-prepares students for a changing world, and can very negatively affect the psycho-social development of those who are sexual minorities. Which is something that the 'gay' community is already, and always has been, dealing with. Expecting children and young adults to hide this part of their being ruins their sense of self, self-confidence, and self-respect - it contributes to violent behaviour, sexual promiscuity, and a general lack of healthy decision making in the community.

It is dangerous. And it fails our students.


  1. Okay, so I agree with everything you write here, Neal. But I have to be honest. If we'd had GSAs when I was in school, I would not, given all the bullying I went through, have joined. I couldn't have. It would have been yet another reason to get the you-know-what kicked out of me when bullies found out.

    So, tell me, if you know, how do these alliances work? They're supposed to create a safe haven for sexual minorities, but how do they do that? Sure, you might have a room to meet in where everyone is supportive. But how would being a part of a GSA help me in the P.E. locker room, when no teacher is around, and when I'm unprotected from any and all of the verbal and physical abuse that could be directed at me? I don't understand how this would help me in the end.

    Perhaps I simply don't get what's going on. Or maybe the environment in schools today is more accepting, and abuse doesn't take place near as much as it used to in the late 1970s. I find difficult to believe, but I'm hopeful. Believe me, I'm so hopeful.

  2. You raise a lot of great points, Rick.

    One of the ironic comments about GSAs in the past several years has been the general lack of sexual minorities participating in them. Unfortunately. And I imagine for the exact same reasons that you have stated above. Nobody who experiences bullying as a closeted gay man really wants to out themselves so publicly as involving themselves in a group explicitly directed towards sexual minorities. That makes total sense - and just like you I am not sure that I would have participated myself.

    The people that do participate tend to be straight. With a few sexual minorities involved, those being generally the most strong, proud, or those who have never been accepted into their school's social events anyways. With the development of GSAs there has not yet been a massive 'coming out' celebration in the nation's high schools. And I don't expect one for a long time.

    But GSAs are an important part of the culture change that is and has to take place. It is a presence at high schools that makes it clear that homophobia is not acceptable, anywhere. Including the locker room. It makes clear who the allies are in a school's student body and staffroom; and provides students with an outlet. It is a big part of starting to break away that fear that closeted and uncloseted students can feel in schools.

    Even if people who identify as sexual minorities aren't involved in them, they can find out who is and talk to somebody. And that, in and of itself, is a big help to confused and frustrated young men and women.

    I don't have a comparison to the 1970s to make. I'm sure I could find studies that say it has gotten better, others that would say it has gotten worse. I will say this - I would very closely associate the presence of GSAs and the allies of gay students with the development of policies like that recently adopted in Edmonton.

  3. Great response, Neal. I thank you for your insight on this important matter. I knew you'd help me to understand it better, because you've recently spent time in the public school system in a professional capacity.
    I read the article regarding Edmonton, and I'm so impressed with their forward thinking. If Edmonton can do it, so can Vancouver, and every large center in Canada as well. Edmonton sets the example. Good on them.