Letters: Gay students need to feel welcome in Langley

Dear Editor,

It’s time to take homophobia seriously in Langley schools.

When I came out of the closet 20 years ago at Walnut Grove Secondary, it was before gay people were constantly on the TV and fairly mainstream.

I was the first openly gay student at the school, and a principal told me at the time that I was also the first in Langley School District.

I didn’t choose to come out of the closet. I moved to Walnut Grove from Vancouver in Grade 9, was relatively popular, and had numerous girlfriends.

That changed quickly in Grade 10 when I told a few trusted friends I was gay, and word spread quickly.

On a recent visit home, I drove by my old school and wondered whether things were easier for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning (LGBTQ) students.

The next day, I opened the paper and read about the Aldergrove School teacher being suspended for a homophobic joke [Teacher disciplined for ‘gay’ prank, Sept. 25, Langley Advance].

I remember being the brunt of similar jokes by teachers. Administrators told me and my friends at the time not to be so serious.

Thankfully, teachers are no longer allowed to be homophobic, but it saddens me that the students are still laughing at the expense of gay people.

Could you imagine them laughing at a racist joke?

For me, like many gay students, I was constantly bullied. I lived in constant fear of being beaten up on my walk home.

The worst memories were from gym class. My clothes were stolen from the locker room, I was pushed into lockers, and I was sprayed with hot water.

Rather than addressing the problem, in typical fashion, my gym teacher told me to stop coming to class. To him, homophobic bullying was the same as any other kind of bullying, and everyone knows kids are cruel, right?

The reality is that LGBTQ kids face very unique challenges. Many are told by their parents or churches that they are fundamentally flawed. They struggle to accept themselves while facing rejection by everyone around them.

The Canadian Mental Health Association says LGBTQ youth are 14 times more likely to commit suicide than straight kids, they are much more likely to drop out, and they have higher rates of drug and alcohol use [click here for related statistics – Editor].

These young people need our support. At the very minimum, we have an obligation to ensure they feel safe at coming to school.

Because of the bullying, I had to switch schools for Grades 11 and 12 to Langley Fine Arts. I’m not sure what I would have done if Langley didn’t have this safe haven for students like me.

After graduation, I sent a letter to the district superintendent with suggestions for making schools in the district more safe and welcoming to LGBTQ students.

I don’t remember receiving a response.

Almost two decades later, the Langley school board is still talking about, debating, and holding public consultation sessions around introducing policies and programs to support LGBTQ students. They’ll finally put a draft policy to the vote this month, at one of the last meetings before the election.

The Trustees aren’t voting on revolutionary ideas, they are considering adopting policies backed by Langley teachers and religious groups, which have been introduced by school districts around the world many years ago.

In some ways, this ongoing discussion in Langley reminds me of school segregation in the USA. Some school boards held heated debates around whether they should proactively ensure black students felt safe and welcome in previously all-white schools.

Of course, the fact that this was even debatable seems ludicrous to us now. I’m pretty confident we’ll look back at debate around ensuring LGBTQ students feel safe and welcome in Langley schools the same way.

Erik Dennison

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