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National study to quiz teachers on homophobia

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Fighting homophobia in the school system has become very personal for Paul Olson.

The president of the Manitoba Teachers' Society -- along with the province's trustees and superintendents -- enthusiastically endorsed a national study Thursday led by University of Winnipeg Prof. Catherine Taylor on inclusive education for LGBT education.

Taylor will survey teachers across the country on their perspectives on homophobia in schools and their ideas and practices for dealing with it.

A previous three-year study that Taylor led showed widespread homophobia and verbal and physical harassment in Canadian schools on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, two-spirit, queer and questioning students.

Olson told a large audience of professors and students at the U of W Thursday it was only in university that his step-daughter found the information and resources that started the process of living as a man. In public school, said Olson, "He saw nothing at all to reflect his transgender identity.

"It's not that he was hiding -- it's that he didn't know enough at that point. I am still very proud, but proud of 'him', and not of 'her'," said Olson.

Canadian teachers must do far more to deal with issues of sexual orientation, Olson said. "Canadian teachers are among the best-trained on the planet. Our obligations as teachers are to meet the needs of every student."

Olson said every English-speaking teachers' group in Canada -- the survey is not being conducted in French -- "jumped at the chance to be involved."

That included teachers in Ontario's public Catholic system, he said, despite "pushback from the bishops."

Far too often, Canadian schools will go only as far in their policies in promoting respect for everyone and endorsing general anti-bullying, said Taylor.

"That's not all that's required to include students. What is needed is participation in school life... in literature, in history, in family life. People are deliberately and artificially left out of the curriculum.

"It doesn't mean, for all but 'them,'" she said. Teachers play the leading role in fighting "the homophobia that poisons the school climate for so many students.

"It is educators who are leading the way now -- they have the expertise. Teachers rock. Collectively, teachers are a formidable force."

Taylor said researchers will collect teachers' perceptions of homophobia in schools, and compare the data to the student perspectives in her previous national study.

"Do they want to do this (anti-homophobia) work or not, and if not, why not?" she said.

She wants to learn what resource teachers need and what they're doing that has worked.

"We're hoping there will be thousands of responses. We hope the teachers' expertise will be shared," said Taylor, who expects to present her study's findings next year.

Education Minister Nancy Allan issued a statement later: "The Department of Education met with Dr. Taylor about this initiative prior to the event and will be collaborating with her as we go forward.

"The department has undertaken a number of initiatives to ensure that our schools are safe for all students, regardless of race, gender, religion or sexual orientation," Allan said.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

City prof leads project

UNIVERSITY of Winnipeg education Prof. Catherine Taylor is leading the Every Teacher Project -- a national survey on teachers' perspectives on, and attitudes towards, homophobia in our schools, and their ideas for combatting it.

The survey can be found at www.mbteach.org .

The Manitoba Teachers' Society, Manitoba School Boards Association and Manitoba Association of School Superintendents have endorsed the study, along with every English-speaking provincial and territorial teachers' body in Canada.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 12, 2012 A11

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