by Raphael Choi
Fighting for my Beliefs
In grade twelve, I came out of the closet to all my friends, becoming one of the few openly gay students in my high school. During the years leading up to this rather significant event of my life, I knew that someday I would let myself be known for who I am. The only question was when. Frankly, I was afraid of repercussions I might face, as if I was admitting to a crime. On the other hand, I had the burning desire to prove something out of me. I had to tell the truth, and it had to be during high school. In September 2003, at a Tim Horton’s, I told my friends that I liked men – that I am homosexual. There it was, plain as a bagel, but nervous as hell.
Fortunately, my coming out experience was met with support and, in the best way, indifference. It was the kind of experience that many closeted LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning) youths can only hope for. The kind that Jamie Hubley, a gay Ottawa teen who committed suicide at the age of fifteen, did not have.
Jamie Hubley was bullied throughout elementary school and into high school. On the school bus, teens would stuff batteries down his throat just because he was a figure skater. Even after he moved to a different school, physical and verbal abuse continued and pushed him into depression, which then led to his suicide in 2011. In fact, according to the 2013 report by Egale Canada Human Rights Trust, LGBTQ youth are at a significantly greater risk of suicide than their heterosexual peers: 33% of LGB youth have attempted suicide in comparison to 7% of youth in general, and 47% of transgender youth have thought about suicide in the past year alone. Sure, not all bullying leads to suicide, but proper education and support for LGBTQ communities must be put in place to save future Jamie Hubley’s of the world.
Then, what can teachers do to promote awareness and understanding of the LGBTQ community?
We must build gay-friendly culture and climate from classrooms up to the entire school. Begin with simple gestures: put up posters with positive messages about LGBTQ; display logos and symbols for gay pride, such as rainbow flag and pink triangle; and discuss human rights for sexual minorities in the same manner we talk about racial and gender equality.
Using visual resource as a pedagogical tool is a powerful way to grab students’ attention. A non-profit organization, Out In Schools, has a wide range of teaching resources for short films that deal with sexual orientation and gender identity. A good place to start can be found in pop culture too, like the music video for Same Love by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis.
If a teacher feels unfamiliar with the subject matter, one can always bring in guest speakers from local organizations like Qmunity (GAB youth) and PrideSpeak. Consider opening a gay-straight alliance (GSA) at your school. Everything you need to know can be found at MyGSA.ca. One may think that elementary school is too early for all this, but the truth is that more and more kids identify themselves as LGBTQ at younger age. Is a student ever too young to learn about the importance of living in harmony?
Still, schools have a long way to go and teachers often send out newsletters to warn parents when teaching this potentially “controversial” content. Despite the obstacles, we must bring in more positive exposure and create gay-friendly school environment, which will benefit not only LGBTQ youth but also LGBTQ staff members and children from same-sex families.