Photo by Whitehorse Star
Photo by Whitehorse Star
The Yukon government will reassess the implementation of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) policies after a letter from Porter Creek Secondary School students outlined discrimination and lack of support in Yukon schools.
The letter, sent to members of the legislative assembly on Tuesday, has been published on p. 15 of today’s Star.
It calls homophobic and transphobic language “commonplace”, and charges staff with turning a blind eye to abuse.
It highlights a lack of sex education, safe spaces and counselling for LGBTQ2S+ students and accuses some staff of refusing to honour the correct pronouns of transgender students.
The letter is signed from the Porter Creek Secondary Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA), the student organization which made news last spring for their petition to ban conversion therapy. (Legislation is planned for introduction to the house next spring, thanks to the students’ activism work.)
The GSA’s communication was tabled in the legislature on Thursday by NDP Leader Kate White, who hopes searing it into public record will help inform Yukoners and instill accountability within government.
“What we are finding is the SOGI policy isn’t being enacted, and it’s systemic across all Yukon schools,” White told media.
“It’s our responsibility – as parents, as allies, as friends, as neighbours – to make sure that discriminatory language is not acceptable.”
Jeanie Dendys, the minister responsible for the Women’s Directorate and LGBTQ2S+ issues in the territory, pledged to meet with the GSA and work toward implementing more effective policies.
“I’m so happy that they’re bringing their voice forward,” Dendys said.
“I’m going to sit down with them, and directly talk to them. I believe that every young person (and) every student in our schools should be safe.”
White and Dendys noted that the SOGI policy, which outlines practices to ensure safety and inclusion for LGBTQ2S+ students, is less than a decade old in the territory.
Dendys told reporters that a recent public engagement initiative in schools showed the imperfect state of inclusivity.
The consultation was powered by the B.C.-based organization QMUNITY and resulted in a report published last May. It found schools lacked effective discrimination policies and provided the Yukon government with 70 recommendations.
“The SOGI policy came up as a high priority to do more work on,” she said. “We know that we’re not there yet.”
Dendys said she is working with the Department of Education to build an action plan for schools based on those recommendations.
Future changes could include adjustments to the SOGI policy, Dendys said. It is a “high priority” issue for the government, she said, but changes will not take place overnight.
“What I know for sure is: it’s going to take time to change the culture in our territory around LGBTQ2S+ discrimination,” she said.
The minister suggested that engagement with students will be vital to making improvements.
“We said, ‘We will do nothing for the community, without the community,’ and that is exactly what we’re doing,” Dendys said.
Education Minister Tracy-Anne McPhee was not in the legislature Thursday, so was unavailable for comment on the students’ letter.
No one was available from the Yukon Teachers’ Association to comment for this story before press time this afternoon.
Yukon Party MLA Scott Kent told the Star he hopes to see a timely resolution to students’ concerns.
“I’m hopeful that … when the minister gets the chance to sit down with the students from Porter Creek, she gets a chance to hear their concerns, and hopefully they can move fairly quickly on some of their concerns,” Kent said.
He expressed concern that overhauling the SOGI policy would be a long process ultimately unhelpful to students currently facing discrimination.
Kent said he hopes to see resolutions in this or the next legislative sitting, which would lead to solutions before the end of the school year.
He added he would “certainly welcome the opportunity” to meet with GSA students after their meeting with Dendys, and will reach out to them next week.
He suggested the Yukon government should work to meet with gender and sexuality groups in all schools to assess the breadth of the problem beyond Porter Creek.
“High school is hard enough, as it is, without some of the concerns that are raised here for LGBTQ2S+ students,” Kent said.
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