“We will not tolerate this group being marginalized,” said Sooke School District superintendent Jim Cambridge of LGBT students.
This was in response to the announcement at the end of October that SD62 joined 14 other B.C. school districts in adopting an anti-homophobia policy in schools. Cambridge said it is no different than the anti-harassment and discrimination policy already in place that protect students and staff against facing prejudice towards things like race and religion.
“Our harassment policies go back 20 years. Similarly, back then, people didn’t see those actions as harassing.”
Unlike other school districts in the province that are either lingering in drafting a policy or facing controversy like Burnaby where an ad hoc opposition group has formed, Sooke school trustees passed the policy unanimously. Following a model from three or four other B.C. districts, the final draft has been a result of about two years of revisions from a committee formed of principals, vice principals teachers and parents, he said.
Not necessarily a response to any specific incident, Cambridge said from looking at demographic data they can safely assume a large part of the population have “alternate gender identification” and aren’t showing it in schools, possibly due to social pressures.
“It’s more to tell families of youth that this is something we’ve attended to and have some concerns about.”
The policy is just as much about education as it is punishment for transgressors. Teams will be travelling around to various schools familiarizing people with the regulations and identifying why it’s an issue.
“For a lot of kids that message of ‘it gets better’ is not good enough for us. It shouldn’t have to get better,” he said.
Roberta Kubik, principal at Edward Milne Community School, congratulated the school board and also the town.
“It really speaks to the community — how oriented we are to all members of our community. I feel kind of proud to be in this environment,” she said.
Kubik hasn’t witnessed any overt instances of sexual or gender bullying in her six years at the high school, but comes across students saying things like “that’s so gay,” in reference to something being undesirable or out of the ordinary. She said it’s subconsciously become part of everyday vernacular.
“We take the time to speak with students. At times, they don’t even question what they’re saying.”
Kids caught using those kinds of phrases are taken aside by staff who explain what it really means, said EMCS English 10 teacher Danielle Huculak. Openly gay, she said her students are often sensitive to their language around her and apologize profusely if they catch themselves saying something inappropriate without realizing it.
She doesn’t broadcast her sexual orientation on the first day of class, but keeps a picture of her partner on her desk that has served as an icebreaker for conversations with students, she said. Just joining the school this year, she is also forming a gay straight alliance starting next year.
Both Huculak and Kubik agreed that there has been a greater awareness of sexual and gender diversity in the last three years or so but acknowledged there is still much work to be done.
“I’m not that naive,” said Kubik. “I do see more openings with our children and our parents saying it’s OK to question themselves, it’s OK to accept others.”
With the policy being passed, she said it gives the school more tools and resources to address issues like giving presentations and hosting seminars.
“Communities as a whole and governments as a whole have highlighted that yes, this is something in society to be aware of,” she said.
“With this on the forefront, people are more comfortable to come forward,” she said.