Last Wednesday was pink shirt day in Canada. Children from all across the country went to school wearing pink in a symbolic gesture to stand up against bullying.
While it certainly looks cute, I wonder if we are actually getting the point across to prevent bullying. Are we doing enough? According to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, we are not even close to ending bullying.
At least one in three adolescent students in Canada have reported being bullied recently. In fact, Canada has the ninth highest rate of bullying in the 13-years-olds category on a scale of 35 countries.
The rate of discrimination is even higher among students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-identified, two-spirited, queer or questioning (LGBTQ). A study commissioned by the Egale Canada Human Rights Trust suggests that if you are a sexual minority student in a Canadian school, it is highly likely that you will hear insulting things about your sexual orientation. According to the study, 74 per cent of trans students and 55 per cent of sexual minority students reported having been verbally harassed about their gender expression; and 20 per cent of LGBTQ youth reported being physically harassed.
Bullying can take many forms, and it doesn’t necessarily originate from students. Almost 10 per cent of LGBTQ students reported having heard homophobic comments from teachers daily or weekly.
The bottom line is that almost two thirds of LGBTQ students in Canada reported feeling unsafe at school, and this is an issue that needs to be addressed, specially when you consider that the risk of suicide is considerably higher among the LGBTQ youth.
One type of organization that has proven to be effective in making students feel safer at schools are gay-straight alliances (GSAs). GSAs are official student clubs with LGBTQ and heterosexual student membership and typically one or two teachers who serve as faculty advisors. These groups provide a safe space for LGBTQ students to create projects and activities that will engage sexual minorities and make them feel welcomed.
I haven’t done much research in British Columbia, but schools in rural areas in the prairie provinces still have a long way to go in implementing GSAs. While researching about the issue in Saskatchewan, for example, I found that many school staff did not seem to understand the importance of a GSA (and ironically, all students wore pink on pink shirt day).
One school principal I interviewed told me his school did not need a GSA because “there were no gay students in his school” (he must have had super powers to know the sexual orientation of all students).
But the most interesting thing about bullying (and this is actually a new concept for me), is that bullying does not end at high school.
According to the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, 40 per cent of Canadian workers experience bullying on a weekly basis. After speaking to someone who provides anti-bullying training for companies in the Lakes District, I learned that bullying at the workplace is a lot harder to identify.
We all know how to identify sexual harassment, for example, but bullying can be a lot more subtle at the workplace. Even things such as water-cooler talks and not inviting a co-worker for events could be classified as bullying.
I sincerely hope we are not just wearing pink once a year and forgetting that bullying is a real issue (not only in schools). Let’s expand this conversation so we can be able to identify and put an end to bullying in all forms.