June is Pride month, in which communities around the world come together to support the LGBTQ2+ communities. Generally, this month is filled with positive energy, message, and support shared with LGBTQ2+ individuals. While this month brings hope for all that we are moving in a positive direction for the inclusion of all individuals that identify with the LGBTQ2+, there continues to be a lack of inclusion in our schools, communities and homes.
Ontario and Canada as a whole have made great strides over the last few decades to improve the well-being of LGBTQ2+ communities. Ontario has a law protecting transgender rights, which bans conversion therapy and supports parent equality. The Accepting Schools bill 13 developed in 2012 protects the rights of students in schools to be included and treated equally, as well as enforces the protection of their safety in school environments. Equal marriages were legalized across the country in 2005. However, these changes to our government cannot change the way each Canadian or Ontarian individual views the LGBTQ2+ communities. Unfortunately, LGBTQ2+ communities still deal with stigma, homo- and transphobia, harassment and abuse. Recent changes to the Ontario health and physical education curriculum further endangered the lives and well-being of youth identifying with LGBTQ2+. Curriculum changes directly impact the inclusion and health of LGBTQ2+ youth.
Studies have shown that LGBTQ2+ youth are at a heightened risk for issues with mental health. LGBTQ2+ youth are at higher risk of suicide and substance abuse than heterosexual youth. Specifically, the Rainbow Health Ontario group indicates that LGBTQ2+ youth are 2.5 times more likely than heterosexual youth to attempt suicide and were 1.5 times more likely to experience depression and anxiety. Further, of youth that identify with LGBTQ2+, 77% identify seriously considering suicide and 45% have attempted suicide in Ontario. Additionally, LGBTQ2+ youth are at greater risk for childhood maltreatment, experiences of sexual abuse, and isolation.
The Canadian Mental Health Association identifies three significant determinants that relate to positive well-being in schools; social inclusion, freedom from discrimination and violence and access to economic resources. Unfortunately, LGBTQ2+ youth often are not provided with equal opportunities to these as others. Bisexual and trans people are over-represented among low-income Canadians. LGBTQ2+ youth experience stigma and discrimination across environments. Further LGBTQ2+ youth are often the targets of sexual and physical assault, harassment and hate crimes.
Evidently, as a community, we still have work to do to ensure the safety and well-being of all youth in our schools including LGBTQ2+ youth. The RSEKN Southwestern Ontario Team released a resource for stakeholders in our school communities. Aaron Rousseau a student at the University of Waterloo working with Dr. Kristina Llewellyn wrote a research brief outlining issues LGBTQ2+ youth struggle with and how schools can better support students.
Aaron provides an important summary and description of appropriate terminology including; LGBTQ2+, cisgender, gender identity, sexual identity, 2 spirited, transgender and gender non-conforming. Aaron further identifies a number of steps that can be taken to better support the LGBTQ2+ youth sitting in our classrooms. First, schools can create space for trans and gender non-conforming youth to explore their gender by eliminating gender binary uniforms, enforcing gender neutral dress codes, providing gender inclusive washrooms, developing Gay-Straight Alliance clubs, and ensuring classrooms are free of binary images. Second, schools and teachers can use resources such as the GLAAD media reference guide (GLAAD, 2016) or Lee Airton’s Gender: Your Guide (2018), to inform the language they use in the classroom. These resources provide important examples of how to communicate in non-exclusionary terms. Further, schools should include gender and sexual diversity in all learning by using books and information that consider gender and sexual diversity across all grades. Lastly, teachers should access resources for themselves and their students to provide recognition, inclusion and acceptance. Further, teachers and school staff should work to ensure all of our students have access to the best support available. Teachers should strive to learn and be a positive person for each of their students.
Written by: Olivia Faulconbridge
Pride is not an LGBT celebration, it’s a human rights celebration – it’s a celebration of equality – it’s a celebration of inclusion – it’s a celebration of acceptance.– Abhijit Naskar