Teaching acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual students needs to be part of the curriculum in Canadian schools, say two anti-bullying experts, after the suicide of 15-year-old Ottawa teen Jamie Hubley.
James McNinch, the dean of education at the University of Regina, has studied how gender and sexual identity is treated in schools.
He said support programs for gay students are "hit and miss" and that is a major concern because the majority of bullying in schools is centred in homophobic attitudes.
"We have anti-bullying programs across this country, but very few of them point out that most bullying occurs around perceptions of people, or name-calling related to, someone being gay or lesbian," said McNinch on CBC Radio's All in a Day.
The concerns are growing, too, he said. The suicide of Hubley has put homophobic bullying in the spotlight this week, which is positive.
Groups that provide support to youth:
Younger students are coming out
But McNinch said more students are coming out at a younger age and schools need to change their attitudes and approach to same-sex issues.
A major change to Ontario's sex education curriculum was proposed in the summer of 2010, but Premier Dalton McGuinty backed away at the last minute after backlash from some interest groups across the province.
"Kids are going to continue to be coming out at a younger and younger age and schools have to be prepared to support them," said McNinch, "Even the fact the school Jamie went to would only allow the group he wanted to start to be called a "rainbow club" means the word gay is like the elephant in the room."
University of Ottawa education professor Joel Westheimer agreed with McNinch, saying many schools do not acknowledge homophobia is the backbone of a lot of bullying.
He added a lot of anti-bullying programs and promises are made on a whim after a tragic event. pointing to newly-appointed Education Minister Laurel Broten, who said Thursday she would find out if the school system could have done more to prevent Hubley's suicide.
'Kids are going to continue to be coming out at a younger and younger age and schools have to be prepared to support them.' —James McNinch
"Right now in schools, teachers are not given the freedom to create the closer communities that prevent this kind of bullying where students know each other in deeper relationships and teachers get to know students," Westheimer said during a conversation on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning Friday.
Provincial standardized testing dominating curriculum
The professor blamed an overwhelming focus on individual results in math and literacy — the basis of provincial testing — for the current school environment. He said administrators need to re-examine that and put more focus on the collective.
McNinch said he believes the solution can be gay-straight alliances within schools. But often, straight female student activists are behind them and there is not enough support from teachers and administration. As a result, they often fall apart after the student graduates.
But research shows any support for adolescents who choose to come out as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transsexual in high school or earlier is essential.
"I think, in schools, what we need to do is not to be afraid to name what we know is a common occurrence — and that is: people whose sexual orientation is not heterosexual," he said.
"There's this huge gap between the romance of a Glee-type program and where you're shoved up against the locker and called a 'fag.'"