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Anti-bullying site quiet on homophobia: advocate

Appointing 19 students to a provincial council on bullying is a great idea, says anti-bullying advocate Ryan Clayton. But the government’s ERASE Bullying website is strangely quiet on homophobia, racism, and sexism, and that’s going to hurt the goal of ending bullying in B.C. schools.

The Premier Christy Clark announced the members of the ERASE (Expect Respect And a Safe Education) Student Advisory council at a student forum on bullying held at Panorama Ridge Secondary School in Surrey earlier today.

It’s the fourth of 10 steps in the $2-million ERASE Bullying Strategy, announced two years ago Clark and then-education minister George Abbott. Others implemented so far include an online tool for anonymously reporting bullying; training for educators and community organizations; and establishing an ERASE website and Twitter presence.

Government made the call for student applications for the council in January, originally looking for 12 students from all over B.C. But the level and quality of the responses inspired government to add seven more students, each representing a different area of B.C.

“We need to work together to come up with clear strategies to stop bullying and intimidation, whether it's happening at school, at the mall, or online,” said Clark, quoted in a government press release issued this afternoon.

“The best way to ensure our efforts remain effective and relevant is to make sure youth are in the provincial discussion. That's why we're supporting this student-led forum - to make sure their voices are heard.”

The council’s first task is to create social media use guidelines for parents, teachers, and students in their districts.

Clayton, who tours the province talking to youth and adults about homophobia and bullying, says the student council idea is “brilliant.” Although only out of high school less than a decade himself, Clayton says high school has changed quite a bit since he then and the only way he knows about how homophobia in schools today is by talking to students.

“The fact that I’m out there listening to students is why I can speak to those issues,” he said, adding since the council’s existence is public, government will be held accountable to listening and implementing what students have to say.

“I was actually [looking at] how many of those students live in districts with anti-homophobia policies, and it seemed to be about half. So it is fairly representative of the state of B.C. right now.”

Less than half—29 out of 60—school districts in B.C. have voluntarily adopted anti-homophobia policies. Clayton hopes that number can move to 31 by June as both the Peace River and Vernon districts are considering their own policies.

Clayton is less impressed, however, with how ERASE addresses the root causes of bullying in older youth, particularly homophobia, sexism, and racism. In a Google search of the ERASE Bullying website, he found only one occurrence of each word once, in a laundry list of things community members should be aware of.

“What it seems to be to me is they’re making it very intentionally as generalized as possible and to focus in just on bullying-power relations behaviours, and nothing to do with discrimination or any of the actual contributing factors to why someone’s bullying. It’s not about discrimination, it’s not about these issues that are part of bullying,” said Clayton.

“ERASE is good, but it does nothing for homophobia and that doesn’t seem to be its intent or its goal.”

These are issues Clayton raised two years ago when the ERASE Bullying Strategy—which is supposed to take five years—was announced. He says as the strategy stands right now, it should do a great job of preventing bullying for young kids—say age 6—but not for older youth where bullying is based on identity and differences between students.

If districts want to attack bullying, Clayton encourages them to adopt anti-homophobia policies, and providing as much teacher and administrator education on the policies as possible. He also encourages schools to reach out to students about what gaps exist in their anti-harassment policies.

“What other policies would send a message to students that they feel valued [in their district]?” he asked.

Creating support groups like Gay-Straight Alliances and discussion groups, and ensuring districts support them is also important.

“Anything where students feel like they’re connected to their community and they’re actually participating, as opposed to being taught to.”

Katie Hyslop reports on education and youth issues at The Tyee Solutions Society. Follow her on Twitter .

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