A new study out of the University of British Columbia shows that high schools with gay-straight alliances have less binge drinking, and a local advocate says Hamilton's school boards should take note.
New research in the journal Preventative Medicine shows that at schools with such clubs, both straight and queer students tend to binge drink less.
In schools with gay-straight alliance clubs, heterosexual teen boys are 45 per cent less likely to have had an episode of binge drinking in the past month. Heterosexual teen girls are 62 per cent less likely to binge drink.
It benefits LGBTQ students too. Lesbian students, for example, are 50 per cent less likely to drink five or fewer drinks at one time.
Deirdre Pike, a Hamilton LGBTQ activist, was vocal last year about the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board's refusal to allow issue-specific gay-straight clubs.
This is evidence that they benefit all students, she said. And it's another reason why the Catholic board needs to reconsider its practice of only allowing generic anti-bullying clubs.
"The Catholic school board really needs to pick up the pace and the integrity in terms of naming these groups, and be intentional about naming them for what they are," she said. "'Diversity club' is not going to cut it."
The study was conducted by Elizabeth Saewyc, a professor of nursing at UBC. The study used findings from the British Columbia Adolescent Health Survey, but Saewyc believes the results would be the same from province to province.
Queer students are not the only ones impacted by name calling and sexuality-related bullying, Saewyc said. She sees that as part of the reason why the clubs help everyone.
"Two-thirds of kids who experience anti-gay discrimination actually identify as straight," Saewyc said. "That kind of bullying or harassment has negative consequences no matter who you are."
The reduction in binge drinking came with a reduction in related behaviours, she said. That includes car crashes, blackouts, problems in school and arguments with family.
Pat Daly, chair of the Catholic board, sees no reason to change course. Hamilton's Catholic high schools have anti-bullying clubs that include everyone, he said, and that's working.
"Our overriding principle is to condemn any type of bullying," he said. But in-school clubs must be "keeping with the tenetts of our faith."
"With those two overriding factors in mind, we believe the all-inclusive club to be the best approach," he said.
The province's bill 13 mandates that school boards allow issue-specific equity clubs. The board understands and respects that legislation, Daly said, "even if we don't agree with it."
There have been other findings that show that a specific LGBTQ-focused group positively impacts all students, Pike said.
"This is not a correlation I would have guessed, but I'm really pleased to find that out," she said.
The study, Saewyc said, suggests that gay-straight alliance clubs are "another possible tool in the toolkit" for schools concerned with problem drinking.