Dozens of Vancouver teachers, students, school support staff, parents and trustees are expected to join thousands of other members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and questioning (LGBTQ) communities this Sunday at the Vancouver Pride Parade.
Decked out in pink t-shirts, the VSB contingent will be marching in the parade to celebrate the district's commitment to safe and inclusive learning environments as well as diversity in school communities.
"Homophobia, intolerance, discrimination and harassment have no place in our schools," says School Board Chair Patti Bacchus. "By marching in this parade and celebrating the Pride Festival with the LGBTQ community we have an opportunity to demonstrate just how committed we are to creating an incredibly inclusive and safe learning environment."
Bacchus says while Pride offers an opportunity for the VSB to celebrate the diversity of its schools in the present, it's also a good time to reflect on the range of initiatives implemented in the past that have made the district's schools so inclusive.
Much of the work can be traced back to 2003 when the VSB Pride Advisory Committee was established. With representatives from VSB staff, trustees, parents and various community groups, the committee met regularly to advise the Board. In 2004 the Board adopted a comprehensive LGBTQ policy committing the district to providing a safe and positive learning environment for all students and employees.
For the last seven years, a part-time district mentor for anti-homophobia and diversity has provided direct support to schools, and liaised with a network of safe contacts in the schools. This mentor has led hundreds of "Lunch and Learn" school-based workshops raising awareness and sharing strategies that students and staff can use when facing discrimination or homophobia. The mentor has also presented to UBC student teachers through their mandatory Developmental Psychology course and is on call to support transitioning youth and their families.
The district's mentor isn't the only resource available to students and staff. All elementary school libraries now maintain a collection of diversity resources including children's books that portray families with same sex parents. All secondary school library collections include LGBTQ resources.
"We are making terrific progress in tackling this important issue," says Board Vice Chair Jane Bouey, liaison to the VSB Pride Advisory Committee and the City's LGBT Advisory Committee. "Many of us have worked very hard on these initiatives for years and are glad to see these efforts are leading to all of our students feeling safer, more welcome and included in our schools."
In addition to district led initiatives, Vancouver students have taken matters into their own hands.
Over the past few years, thousands of Vancouver students participate annually in "Pink Day" events focused on reducing bullying, and in particular homophobic bullying and celebrating inclusion. Meanwhile, all district secondary schools now have student clubs (often called Gay-Straight Alliances), which host plays, films, and assemblies to promote awareness and acceptance.
For information, please contact:
Patti Bacchus, VSB Chair, 604-250-1130, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jane Bouey, VSB Vice Chair, 604-345-4246, email@example.com