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Central Okanagan schools face up to queer youth harassment

But advocate says much more needs to be done

The queer youth community was given a voice at the Central Okanagan Board of Education meeting on Wednesday.

Wilbur Turner, chair of Advocacy Canada, gave a presentation on the difficulties facing queer youth and the importance of education and support needed to represent basic human rights to find acceptance in the school system regardless of gender or sexual identity.

Turner said adults from the conservative right of the political spectrum in the U.S. have been vocal, organized and well-funded as a political movement in pressuring school boards to not recognize social cultural change.

He said when the lack of acceptance comes from someone’s own family, queer youth are vulnerable to harassment and bullying, turning to school teachers and administrative staff to find support.

“If silence is the response to harassment in schools, what that is saying is it is okay (for bullying and harassment of queer youth) to happen,” Turner said.

Turner’s Advocacy Canada group has a mission to unite and amplify queer voices and their allies in the community to effect positive change on important issues that make a lasting difference.

He cited a recent Stats Canada study released in October 2022 which found 70 per cent of homeless youth face gender identity acceptance issues, and 69 per cent at some point have considered suicide.

Turner noted bullying and harassment are often extended to youth who are mistakenly gender identified.

“They are for any number of reasons perceived to be and they get bullied,” Turner said.

And, he noted this harassment can potentially be extended to adults in the LGBTQIA+ community who work for the school district.

Suggesting ideas on how the school district can do better to reach out to queer youth, Turner cited the need to expand the SOGI 123 program resources, stating the more resource material that queer youth can identify with which reflects their own lives, using education and awareness to reduce the social stigma negativity, could continue efforts to give them the freedom to identify in any school setting.

“We don’t want the message to be to remain invisible in order to avoid being bullied,” Turner noted.

Trustee Julia Fraser affirmed her endorsement of the SOGI 123 program adopted by the school district in 2018, and the existence of two full-time teachers delivering the program to local schools.

SOGI was created to help educators make schools inclusive and safe for students of all sexual orientations and gender identities but has been subjected to criticism from some parents.

She reiterated how education remains the best asset for celebrating diversity against ‘keyboard warriors’ and schoolyard bullying.

Trustee Wayne Broughton said persecution and dehumanizing of any group of people are what can lead to cultural catastrophes.

“I see signs of that kind of hatred in the U.S. and I don’t want to see that spread to Canada as well.”

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Barry Gerding

About the Author: Barry Gerding

Senior regional reporter for Black Press Media in the Okanagan. I have been a journalist in the B.C. community newspaper field for 37 years...
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