Students in the district say life is getting easier if you identify as LGBTQ+, but that there are still improvements to be made.
A board trustee made a motion on Jan. 23 to update the School District’s policies to be more welcoming to people of different sexual orientations.
Sheila Boehm pointed to the Vancouver School Board, whose policy includes specific issues faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, two-spirit, queer and questioning (LGBTQ+) individuals, as well as definitions used by the LGBTQ+ community. While the current policy on “Safe, caring and orderly schools” does currently include LGBTQ+ students, Boehm thinks it isn’t enough.
At the school board meeting, her motion was delayed until School District staff could make a report to the board about what is happening in the School District with regards to LGBTQ+ students. That report was presented on Tuesday, March 13, after the Tribune‘s press deadline.
The Tribune sat down with three members of the Lake City Secondary’s Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), which includes both LGBTQ+ students and their allies, at the Williams Lake Campus and their teacher, to talk about what they see in their school.
Shannon Rerie is a teacher at Lake City Secondary and said when she started the GSA at Columneetza 10 years ago, she faced a lot of pushback.
“It was a very different environment, a very different culture and there weren’t any openly gay couples and that has changed a lot,” she said.
“I’m not saying it is easier for these students, but we are more aware of them and they are out there a lot more.”
“Teachers and faculty are realizing that not everyone is fitting into these categories,” said AJ Snider. “I was talking to my gym teacher and he explained that instead of just having female and male genders for attendance and paperwork they have different types of pronouns and it makes me really happy.”
“Most make sure they don’t use horrible terms in the hallway,” said Tyla Garreau, who says she is an ally to the LGBTQ+ community.
“I think the kids have changed, I think their world has changed,” said Rerie. “Our kids are a lot more open minded and a lot more diverse. I think there are parents who are probably still wary about the whole idea, but there is a lot more education that happens.”
The school has had a gender neutral washroom for the past three years, that students and teachers of any gender can use, and posters and rainbow stickers are commonplace in the hallways of both campuses.
Still, the students say there is still room for improvement.
“A lot of the gym teachers from this campus don’t split us up with girls on this side and boys on that side. They will mix them around, but other gym teachers will still do that and assume that people fit into that girl and guy category, and if a girl goes over to the guys category they will say no,” said Faith Morse.
Snider said they still hear people in the hallway say things like “that’s so gay.”
“It’s bad and I understand it’s not always 100 per cent caught by teachers, but some things I’ve heard have been really loud and around teachers and they haven’t done anything.”
They said assumptions about whether someone is male or female, or is romantically into females or males can be harmful, and those assumptions are still made on a daily basis.
“Nowadays some people are supportive and they are coming out more and more and soon there is going to be quite a few LGTBQ+ students and teachers are going to realize that we are there too and we don’t fit into the stereotypical norms.”
Actually understanding the different words people use when they are talking about the LGBTQ+ community can be useful as well – like understanding what the word “asexuality” means, said Morse.
“Having the students know more about it so they can understand what they say can hurt people,” said Garreau. “Not just saying something and not knowing what it means because that can be damaging to a lot of people that they don’t realize.”
More education would be helpful, said Snider, although they think that people need to be careful when thinking about the repercussions.
“With everything that is good there might be a few problems and if we do not realize what those problems are then they are going to get worse. I believe that we should take precautions because there are going to be quite a few negative things being said, and there are quite a few negative things being said already about us being in the school.”
“For the most part I think this school is doing pretty well though,” said Garreau. “It is not as bad as it could be.”
Still, things could be better.
“I think there is a lot of room for improvement and people have that ability to improve,” said Snider.
“Take a moment to realize there are a lot of different people in your community and maybe if you take a second to talk to us and understand how we live, it is not very different than yours.”