Canadian schools want to support LGBT youth, study says

Most Canadian school administrators want to offer specific supports to enhance the safety of LGBT students, a new study says.

Winnipeg researcher found urban schools more likely than rural to embrace LGBT policy

Most Canadian school administrators want to offer specific supports to enhance the safety of LGBT students, a new study suggests. (CBC)

Most Canadian school administrators want to offer specific supports to enhance the safety of LGBT students, a new study says.

The survey headed by Catherine Taylor, an education professor at the University of Winnipeg, surveyed 141 Canadian school divisions, including rural, urban and Catholic divisions. 

"It was significant to find that there is such support and goodwill towards LGBTQ students coming from the top," Taylor said in a news release.

There was a 36 per cent response rate from school divisions, which Taylor said is strong.

"This suggests that the time has come to end the official and unofficial 'don't say the word gay' rule that still exists in many schools and introduce specific supports to ensure the well-being of LGBTQ youth," she said.

The purpose of the study was to develop a more detailed picture of how school systems are acting to support LGBT students.

The study also found LGBT-specific policy is perceived to be more effective than safe schools policy, but it's less likely to be brought in before Grade 8. Many of the school districts that responded to the study rely solely on gay-straight alliances or anti-harassment policy to support LGBT students.

"Even though more superintendents expressed confidence in the benefits to LGBTQ youth from the specific [policies], a lot of the districts were sticking with the generic ones anyway," Taylor said. 

"The reason for that is … the school districts are fearful they are going to encounter community opposition if they try to do this work in a more specific way." 

Urban schools were more likely than rural ones to have LGBT-specific interventions, the study said, and fewer than five districts reported opposition to LGBT interventions on religious grounds.

The Hanover School Division in southern Manitoba is facing a human rights complaint over a policy that prohibits its teachers from talking about sexual orientation or gender identity in some classrooms.

The Public Interest Law Centre submitted the complaint on behalf of Michelle McHale and Karen Phillips, a common-law couple from the Steinbach, Man., area. The couple alleges that one of their children was bullied at school for having two moms.

When McHale complained to the school principal, she was told a division policy forbids any discussion of same-sex relationships in elementary and middle school classes.

Steinbach will hold its first Pride Parade on Saturday, but the celebration for the LGBT community has been mired in controversy. Taylor will speak about the study and its findings at the Steinbach Pride Parade.

"I want to be there along with many, many other people… to give a clear message to LGBTQ people in Hanover School District and in Steinbach that they are not alone," Taylor said. 

Taylor added that her research, including the recent study, shows that by holding out on LGBT policy, the Hanover School Division is behind the national trend. 

"I sincerely believe that it is disgraceful that a school division is allowed to pick and choose which minority groups will be respected and which will not," she said. 

"We have a charter of rights and freedoms in this country that makes it the job of school districts and elected representatives to protect minorities from discrimination and that's not happening where LGBTQ people are concerned."

The study, called National Inventory of School District Interventions in Support of LGBTQ Youth Wellbeing, was funded by a $2-million grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.