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This article was published 13/9/2009 (3777 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
High schools are "the land that time forgot" in the ongoing battle to eradicate homophobia, laments University of Winnipeg education and communications Prof. Catherine Taylor.
"It's a non-issue for so many people these days. They don't recognize how bad the situation is for so many people," said Taylor. She and University of Manitoba sociology Prof. Tracy Peter are conducting a national survey on homophobia in schools.
"Kids are being tormented and terrorized, and very little is being done about it," she said.
Taylor says the findings of their first phase are not surprising — the vast majority of gay and lesbian students who responded to the survey reported verbal homophobic attacks in their high school, sometimes physical abuse, and could identify areas of their school where they don't feel safe, such as washrooms, gym change rooms, and hallways.
The result was hardly surprising when teenagers freely use as pejoratives words such as "fag" and "queer" in an environment where few students are brave enough to step forward and say such terms are wrong, said Taylor.
As well, "A lot of straight kids are bullied homophobically at school," she pointed out.
The national survey of homophobia in Canadian schools is providing a data base remarkably similar to surveys in the United States and United Kingdom, she said.
Taylor said 85 per cent of the respondents to the first phase of the online, anonymous survey are LGBTQ — lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning — but the second-phase responses that she and Peter are now analyzing should draw far more straight students.
The researchers got consent from many school divisions across Canada this past winter to distribute extensive second-phase surveys in high school classrooms. In some parts of Canada, students themselves could choose whether to take part; in many, students under 18 needed parental consent.
Taylor cited Louis Riel, Seven Oaks, and Evergreen school divisions for enthusiastically endorsing the research project and for urging their principals to promote it within high schools. Evergreen's Gimli High School has an especially strong Gay Straight Alliance group, she said.
There was a strong response even though all three divisions required parents' written consent, Taylor said.
The fourth Manitoba division to take part was Winnipeg School Division, whose anti-homophobia education policy a decade ago was truly ground-breaking, Taylor said.
But WSD did not promote the survey, she said, even though the division left the decision to take part entirely up to students 16 and older. Only four WSD high schools took part — she won't identify them — and principals did not actively promote the survey, she said.
"We had less uptake in WSD than in the others," Taylor said. "Our greatest success was where there was a strong buy-in at the division level — that didn't happen in Winnipeg School Division."
WSD officials could not be reached.
Taylor said she was surprised at the welcome reception the survey received in Toronto and Ottawa, whose school boards are so inundated with survey requests from university researchers that they usually say no.
"The entire province of Newfoundland and Labrador signed on, because the minister of education said this has to be done," she said.
Vancouver's school board does not involve parents at all in school discussion of sexual orientation — schools treat it as mainstream in school curricula, Taylor said. "We have a solid representation of Asian students" from Vancouver.
Taylor said the more detailed second-phase results should be made public in December, and her research group is applying for funding for a third phase to interview teachers across Canada.
Survey report online
The first-phase report of The National Climate Survey on Homophobia in Canadian Schools can be found at: http://climatesurvey.ca/report/ClimateSurvey-PhaseOneReport.pdf
The survey was a 54-item questionnaire made available online and in print. Questions were of three kinds: demographic (e.g., age, province, sexual identity), experiences (e.g, hearing gay used as an insult), and institutional responses (e.g., staff intervention, safe-school policies).