Shortly after midnight on Aug. 14, a teenage boy in Southwest Calgary left a house party to walk a female friend home. On his way back, he was stopped by a group of fellow guests —between four to six males. They proceeded to beat him unconscious and leave him on the street; he was later hospitalized and released.
As part of an effort to find the assailants, Calgary police this week revealed the victim was attacked because he was gay. And yet just a day earlier, Alberta school board trustees voted against discussing policies that would specifically help protect LGBTQ students. This begs the question: what the fuck?
Alberta School Boards Association president Helen Clease was quick to say her members will work to meet the province’s inclusivity guidelines, while Colleen Munro, chairwoman of Rocky View Schools claimed the no vote boiled down to agenda protocols not being followed.
“It has nothing to do with the essence of the motion, it’s all about the procedure,” she said.
Oh, OK then. LGBTQ kids are being bullied, beaten up and are contemplating suicide, but as long as we’re adhering to the right meeting procedures.
Alberta has made progress in terms of LGBTQ rights in recent history, with the province legislating that schools are obliged to accommodate gay-straight-alliances should students request them. But, on the ground, there’s a lot of work left to be done.
According to an investigation by Metro, 45 of the 61 school boards in the province don’t have policies in place relating to gender identity discrimination, a gap that caught attention when the mother of a 7-year-old trans girl in Edmonton filed a human rights complaint because her daughter was singled out for wanting to use the girls’ washroom. The little girl told her mom she was thinking of killing herself.
While debating the issue, Edmonton Catholic school trustees literally started screaming at each other, prompting a likely fed-up Education Minister David Eggen to tell them to “get their acts together.” Eggen has since ordered all boards in the province to develop procedures targeted at LGBTQ youth by next March. And yet, at Monday’s ASBA meeting, fewer than two-thirds of the boards agreed to even have a conversation on the topic.
“It’s amazing to me they’re not seeing what harm that in and itself does,” Yiorgos Boudouris, founder of Acts of Greatness, a Calgary-based LGBTQ youth outreach organization told VICE.
“The refusal to even discuss this, what message is this sending to these LGBTQ youth who need this now?”
It’s sending the message that authority figures don’t care enough about an already marginalized group of kids to even talk about measures that could safeguard them. (For context, as Michael Janz, chairman of Edmonton Public Schools, pointed out: there are explicit school policies relating to oil wells and defibrillators.)
Some Alberta schools have claimed their “diversity” or “social justice” clubs are good enough, but we know that gay and trans kids have specific concerns and face specific challenges around safety and mental health.
“They know that in an LGBTQ GSA safe space they can talk about these issues,” said Boudouris. “There’s someone there to listen and to help.”
Minister Eggen’s deadline is months away, but the truth is, Alberta schools needed these policies in place yesterday. It’s time for the people purporting to be in charge to get over their egos and do what’s best for their students. Lives are depending on it