Celebrate the Rainbow!
The Healthy Schools program at the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit works with schools to support students, parents, and staff to achieve optimal health and well-being. The Healthy Schools approach is to create an inclusive Healthy School Committee, where there is representation of all social, cultural and economic groups and student populations.
LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered) parents, students, and staff provide valuable insight on what works well and where improvements can be made to support LGBT health and well-being in schools. In addition, LGBT school members bring their unique culture, history, and perspectives that enrich the whole school community. We encourage members of the LGBT community to play an active role in schools, to build awareness and support strategies that enhance school health and well-being. We also encourage school communities to increase their own awareness of LGBT issues and rights.
LGBT Students and the Ministry of Education
To support LGBT student education, the Ministry of Education has produced an Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy in which all students, parents, and other members of the school community are welcomed and respected, and every student is supported and inspired to succeed in a culture of high expectations for learning. For more information, visit http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/policyfunding/equity.pdf
School Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs) and School Positive Space
Supportive school staff make students feel safer, miss less school, and consider college or university more often. Students in schools with a Gay Straight Alliance (GSA) also are more likely to feel like they belong than students in schools without GSAs. Research has also shown that when schools have anti-bullying policies that include harassment based on sexual orientation, there is a lower incidence of homophobic remarks and verbal harassment, and higher rates of intervention by teachers. Enacting these relatively simple measures can help to make the school experience a vastly more positive one for the many LGBT students that we know are out there.
LGBT students suffer disproportionately from bullying and harassment, family disownment and conflict, homelessness, depression, suicide and suicidal ideation, and substance misuse. They are also much more likely to report skipping school due to safety concerns, and are more than twice as likely to report that they are not planning to pursue post-secondary education. When LGBT students do not see themselves reflected or acknowledged anywhere, it compounds their sense of isolation and undermines their ability to form a healthy self-concept.
These ill effects are directly related to the amount of homophobia that still exists in society today, often in the form of open hostility. Homophobia is the problem, not being LGBT!
LGBT Community Supports
Unfortunately, there are limited local supports for LGBT youth and their families, same-sex families or couples, or single LGBT adults. This lack of support, coupled with negative experiences, leads many LGBT youth to seek "greener pastures" outside their own communities. This is another reason it is so important for schools to have a GSA and be a positive space.
The following two resources are accessible to students in Simcoe County and the District of Muskoka.
The LGBT Youth Connection is a drop-in and social space for LGBT youth ages 14-24, and is run by the AIDS Committee of Simcoe County. Groups are currently running in Barrie (Junior 15 and under, and 15 and over) and Orillia. The group is a place for youth to connect with each other and to community. In addition to the drop-ins, the group also holds special events such as tea parties, picnics, cooking classes, movie nights, education presentations, guest speakers, and more.
The Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Youth Line is a toll-free Ontario-wide peer-support phone line for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual 2-spirited, queer and questioning young people. The Youth Line also provides online peer support through the online forum and email response.
Canadian web sites that are good sources of information include Egale, The Canadian Encyclopedia, PFLAG Canada, The Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity, and Rainbow Health Ontario, among others.
For more information or would like to speak to a public health nurse, please contact Health Connection by phone, email, Facebook, or Twitter.