May 14, 2010
FREDERICTON (CNB) - The following statement is issued by Randy Dickinson, chairperson of the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission:
Monday, May 17, is the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia. This day was first observed in 2005, following in the steps of a national day pioneered in Quebec in 2003. Transphobia refers to a fear or negative attitude toward transgender people, transsexuals or people who are making a transition from one gender to another.
In Canada, this year's theme is homophobia in sports. The theme is timely since the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission presented its annual human rights award last fall to the Woodstock High School Lady Thunder hockey team for the support it showed to a couple of its players who were subjected to homophobic name-calling. The team did not let silence signal its acceptance that homophobia is inevitable in sports. In partnership with the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA), team members wore pins opposing homophobia and enlisted the support of other hockey teams.
Unfortunately, homophobic name-calling and bullying is not limited to sports. According to statistics published in March 2009 by EGALE, three quarters of sexual minority youths (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender/two-spirited, questioning/queer) in Canadian high schools felt unsafe somewhere in school, compared to one-fifth of heterosexual students, and one-quarter had skipped school for safety reasons, compared to one-tenth of heterosexual students. The statistics are even worse for transgendered students specifically. In addition, half of sexual minority students hear insulting remarks every day in high school.
Other researchers have reported a much higher rate of suicide, homelessness, dropping out and addiction for sexual minority youths.
This is a human rights issue.
According to human rights case law, schools have a legal duty to do whatever is reasonably necessary short of undue hardship to provide a positive school environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, two-spirited, intersex and heterosexual students. This means an environment free of discrimination, harassment and bullying. The human rights requirements are strict, and they apply to every aspect of the public school system. Students (16 or older) or parents can file a human rights complaint if their school fails to provide a positive school environment, due to bullying, for example.
New Brunswick educators have done a great deal to counter bullying in recent years. Bullying is addressed in a departmental policy, in the Provincial Student Code of Conduct and in the code of conduct of each school. The teachers' union has also been active. Yet the problem is far from resolved. So, what else can be done?
One of the most promising approaches are GSA clubs that provide a safe, supportive setting for high school students to work together to foster a positive school environment for sexual minority students and to discuss the issues that concern them. New Brunswick's 10 or so GSAs are holding a conference this weekend.
These initiatives are important and welcome, but overcoming homophobia in sports and in school will require the sustained efforts of officials, parents, teachers and coaches throughout New Brunswick.
That is why I urge New Brunswickers to support the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia and to confront homophobia whenever they encounter it throughout the year. Our work is not done as long as a single young person is afraid to go to school or to play a sport.
MEDIA CONTACT: Francis Young, human rights officer, New Brunswick Human Rights Commission, 1-888-471-2233.