Story and Photos by Jonathon Pukila
Helen Kennedy, Executive Director of Egale Canada, holds up a copy of the 2011 National Climate Survey on Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia in Canadian Schools. The survey found that a significant number of high school students, both LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ have been harassed or assaulted because of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The survey inspired the creation of a campaign to create safer and inclusive schools.
Kennedy was the keynote speaker at Thunder Pride’s anti-homophobia awareness breakfast at the Prince Arthur Hotel on Monday morning. Subtitled “Continuing to Make Change Our Responsibility,” Kennedy emphasised that a lot more needs to be done culturally since gay marriage was legalized. “The legislative agenda may be there, but the cultural changes we need to make as a society are a long way from conclusion,” Kennedy stated. She also highlighted a number of the organization’s initiatives aimed at making schools safe for LGBTQ people in Canada and around the world. In one example, representatives from Egale recently travelled to Montenegro to train 64 police officers in addressing homophobic violence.
Ellen Chambers, President of the Lakehead Elementary Teachers of Ontario (LETO), and organizer of the anti-homophobia awareness breakfast. Given the legislative acceptance of LGBTQ persons in society, Chambers says “one can think we have ‘done it.’ We’re done [discussing this matter],” However, she cautions that individuals in educational settings must “be trained to make their schools safe and inclusive for all.”
Representatives of The Other 10%, a group for LGBTQ youth aged 12-25, shared the experiences of several of their high school members. “In Thunder Bay, it is often more difficult to be openly gay. A lot of people in the city are very judgemental and assume that just because you’re gay you’re different,” says one student. “But like everything, there is a good and a bad side…there are also a lot of very accepting people who love and respect the LGBT community and I am honoured to be friends with many of them.”
Representatives from teachers unions, Lakehead Public Schools, Thunder Bay Catholic District School Board, and Conseil scolaire de district catholique des Aurores boréales listen to the ways in which educators can provide a safe space for LGBTQ youth.