Building safe and inclusive communities for LGBTQ students in Catholic schools was the focus of a workshop hosted by the Edmonton Catholic Teachers Local No. 54 on Feb. 11.
In attendance were teachers, school administrators and central office staff from four Alberta school jurisdictions. Also among the crowd were a priest, a parent and a retired University of Alberta professor.
Kevin Welbes Godin, special project co-ordinator for equity and inclusive education with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, led the workshop. He guided approximately 55 people through exercises, information and reflection, all with the purpose of generating questions, discussions and improved awareness of issues faced by people within LGBTQ communities.
Only somewhat tongue-in-cheek, he at one point made it clear that his workshop was not about sex.
“If you’re here for the sex show and you think we’re going to be talking about sex and how people have sex, I’m sorry we’re not going to be talking about that. It’s not part of the program,” Godin said. “But if you’re here about how to keep kids safe, you’re in the right place.”
Indications were that people were there because they want to keep kids and teachers safe.
Close to 100 per cent of hands went up when Godin asked attendees whether they had LGBTQ students in their schools. The same percentage of hands went up when he asked the same about staff. Asked why they chose to attend the workshop, “to support our students” and “to support our staff” were the first responses shouted out.
Shifting between role-playing scenarios, video presentations, statistics and discussions, Godin shared compelling insights and information about people in LGBTQ communities and how they come to be marginalized. He illustrated how stigmas, silence, a lack of intervention and a lack of a visible LGBTQ community contribute to unsafe school environments for LGBTQ students. With help from a diagram of a “genderbread person” he matter-of-factly explained the distinctions between sex, gender and orientation.
Attendees learned from Godin and from each other, as when one asked whether there is any evidence that gay-straight alliances (GSAs) save lives. Edmonton Catholic Teachers Local president Greg Carabine shared with the group that a 2008 study on GSAs conducted in British Columbia (by non-governmental organization McCreary Centre Society) showed schools with anti-homophobic interventions like GSAs experienced reduced odds of suicidal thoughts and attempts among sexual minority students.
Thoughts on, and experiences with, GSAs were shared by teachers and school administrators alike. Threaded through their various stories were urgency, emotions, laughter and genuine common sense. On the heels of Godin recalling a member of the Catholic leadership in Ontario alleging GSAs were “hook-up clubs,” one teacher shared how during the last GSA meeting at his high school the topics of discussion were “who the best Oscar nominees were and why Donald Trump would be a bad president.”
Another teacher discerned the rationale for GSAs in his own roundabout, no-frills fashion.
“So what you’re saying is that, like if I have basketball players, I provide a basketball team for them … so, if I have kids that want to cook, I have a culinary club … and so then basically I say I’m going to try to create a great school with great places for as many students as possible … and so [with GSAs] we’re providing opportunities for marginalized students who can be at risk.”
Godin agreed with the teacher’s philosophy but highlighted that Alberta’s legislation is clear: GSAs are formed at the request of students; the role of the teacher is to be the moderator. ❚