To the Editor

I would like to thank Dr. Walton for speaking up for the students in our education system who experience homophobic harassment.  I have been working in Thunder Bay for six full years to end homophobic violence in our schools.  I also sit on the Egale Education Committee, a group of educators from across Canada, with the same goal.  The first National Climate Survey on Homophobic Violence in Canadian Schools was conducted across Canada this past school year, with more than 5000 high school students participating.  Reading the report is heartbreaking:

Three quarters of participants hear “That’s so gay every day in school.”

Half heard remarks like “faggot”, “queer”, “lezbo”, and “dyke” daily. Over half of LGBTQ students, compared to a third of non-LGBTQ reported hearing such remarks daily.

One in four LGBTQ students had been physically harassed about their sexual orientation.

Over half the LGBTQ students had rumours or lies spread about their sexual orientation at school, compared to one in ten non-LGBTQ.

The primary and most fundamental responsibility of schools is to provide a safe environment for all students – every day.  Reading the Egale report makes it clear that gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender (LGBTTQ) kids or those who are perceived as such are not safe in our schools.  That means all schools, elementary, secondary, public and separate.

The Ontario Ministry of Education is mandating that all school boards across Ontario have bullying prevention policies in place this winter and that the homophobic bullying be addressed.  However, my experience makes it clear that what is on paper and what is practise can often be at odds.

Unless every staff member – administrators, principals, teachers, custodians, educational assistants… receive specific training to understand what homophobia and transphobia means, and teachers in particular are given specific tools, resources and support to deal with the daily problem of homophobia, the harassment will continue.  Every year children who are harassed drop out of school, don’t reach their full potential, experience depression, or kill themselves because of homophobic harassment.  Children in schools hear daily “that’s gay” or worse, and never see sexual orientation other than heterosexual, reflected in the curriculum.  It is time for our education system to be proactive in making the lives of all children safe.  It is too important to ignore or contribute to the problem as you do with the by-line in your article beginning “Poofter Phd”.  Dr. Walton is right, our schools are not safe.

Sincerely,

Ellen Chambers Picard

Lakehead Alumnus and Community Member