Boldly going where no board has gone before

January 17, 2012

Edmonton Public School Board passes landmark policy

November 2011 the Edmonton Public School Board (EPSB) became the first school board in the three western provinces to approve a policy to protect sexual minorities; the goal of the policy is to make its schools welcoming and safe for all students and staff. The policy includes students, staff and families who identify or are perceived as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, two-spirited, queer or questioning of their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

In an interview with the Edmonton Journal (November 29, 2011), EPSB chair Dave Colburn called the decisions “historic and important” but added that it was only a first step in ensuring that schools support and accept sexual minorities. He also noted that “the board expects all members of this diverse community to be welcomed, respected, accepted and supported in every school,” adding that “we’re having a conversation now in Alberta that is overdue.”

One impetus behind this new policy was the high-profile suicide of a 15-year-old Grade 10 Ottawa student, Jamie Hubley, who often blogged about the difficulty, despair and loneliness he felt as an openly gay teenager. Hubley had tried to start a Rainbow Club at his school to promote acceptance (the rainbow has been associated with the gay rights movement since the late 1970s), but students tore down the posters and verbally abused him in the school hallways.

Although public opinion (EPSB received feedback from more than 2,000 people) was overwhelmingly in favour of this policy, some groups did oppose it. For example, a Christian alternative program known as the Edmonton Logos Society, which operates in seven public schools, based its opposition on concerns that the policy could force teachers to go against their beliefs.

The ATA’s Diversity, Equity and Human Rights (DEHR) Committee had a special interest in the outcome of the Edmonton Public decision. “The EPSB should be applauded for taking action to ensure that its classrooms are truly inclusive,” said Denis Espetveidt, district representative for Calgary City and chair of the DEHR Committee. “While most Albertans respect and support the rights of sexual minorities, victimization still occurs. Hopefully, all school boards in Alberta will follow the lead of Edmonton Public in adopting policy and practice that protect our most vulnerable students from discrimination and bullying.”

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