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Ottawa-Carleton District School Board trustee speaks out against anti-gay bullying


Ottawa-Carleton District School Board trustee speaks out against anti-gay bullying

Donna Blackburn is the first out lesbian to sit on the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. IMAGE 1 OF 1
Vows to make sure every school has gay-straight alliances
"I guess part of me is angry and, as a result of this, I am more determined to make sure that this does not happen again," says Ottawa-Carleton District School Board (OCDSB) trustee Donna Blackburn, speaking about Jamie Hubley, the gay teen who committed suicide on Oct 14.

Blackburn is the first out lesbian to sit on the OCDSB. At the board meeting on Oct 25, she took the opportunity to talk about her struggle as a gay teen in high school.

"High school was a very hard time for me, and during that time, I was treated for depression and under the care of a psychiatrist," she said. "Looking back on that time of my life, which is over 20 years, I can tell you that one of the main reasons I suffered from depression was because I was living under constant fear -- I was trying to be something I wasn't."

Blackburn spoke after Jennifer Adams, the director of education for OCDSB, opened the meeting. In her report, Adams acknowledged the loss of Hubley as well as the problem of homophobia and bullying in schools.

"This tragedy is a reminder of the complexities we are faced with every day in our schools. Issues of bullying, sexual orientation, depression and suicide require a district-wide and a community-wide effort," Adams said. "I want to be clear that for the OCDSB, bullying and homophobic comments and actions have not, and never will be, tolerated."

Adams stated that although steps have been taken to make classrooms safe spaces, there is still more work to be done.

"Our next step will be the hallways, lunchrooms, playgrounds, where staff are not always able to witness every interaction between students. This work will require staff, trustees, parents and the community to work together because a cultural change is required."

Adams also commented on some of the work that the OCDSB has done to promote inclusiveness: the inclusion of questions about sexual orientation in the OCDSB's recent school survey and the board's participation in this year's Capital Pride march.

Blackburn, who has worked to promote inclusiveness and diversity within the schools, now vows to work toward getting queer alliances, diversity clubs or gay-straight alliances (GSAs) into schools.

"I want to know how many GSAs we have. What schools are they in? What schools are they not in and why?" says Blackburn. "I think it is incumbent on the adults in the high schools that don't have GSAs to get them going. [We should] not rely on the students to initiate one, because we can't have one student running around and putting up posters and for the burden to be on that kid or those few kids. We need these GSAs to be set up, and the adults need to get engaged actively with these kids."

Blackburn wants to go into schools and talk about being an openly gay woman in the hope that she can help prevent other teen suicides.

"If I can go to a GSA and talk about my experiences, if I can go speak at the Rainbow Forum, if I can talk to teachers and talk about my experiences, answer their questions or do whatever I can to make sure that this does not happen again, I am prepared to do it," she says.

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Blah, Blah, Blah...
talk and more talk, talk, talk. If these people were even remotely on the ball or gave a sh*#! we would have had one less gay kid. Talk, talk, talk. They sicken me. Let's start by persecuting and putting in jail all those responsible directly or indirectly, including the principal, trustee's, the teachers and his tormentors for the bullying of the gay boy. Blah, Blah, Blah. Complexities? It's NOT complicated.
Local LGBTQ Policies Needed
Thanks to Donna Blackburn for refusing to be silent. What this board and others in Ontario need are discrete LGBTQ policies which support queer and questioning youth in schools and allow teachers to teach about LGBTQ issues at all grade levels. GSA clubs are not enough. Adults need to be the leaders here. In BC, we have 15 school boards with LGBTQ policies now. I coordinate the LGBTQ programs for the BC Teachers' Federation and would be happy to assist Blackburn and others with policy establishment and implementation in Ontario.
Thank you Donna!
As an out trustee, and Vice Chair of the Vancouver School Board, and someone who has spent my political career working with the community for schools that are more welcoming, safer, and inclusive for all students - I thank Donna Blackburn for speaking out so powerfully.
Religious Accommodation is Bad for Gays
So, how's that religious accommodation and Muslim prayer rooms in public schools policy working for you, Mr. McGuinty? How many of the imams preaching in schools are gay or gay affirming? How many teachers will feel even more threatened not to help their gay students with religious parents breathing down their backs claiming their right to have their religion accommodated? We already have one school system where mentioning the word "gay" is verboten.
Yeah, we hear this song and dance everyday. Where are the kids that bullied Jamie? what has been done to them? Are they still walking the halls bullying other kids? We need ZERO tolerance for this stuff.
Suggestions on how to combat homophobia in schools
As an openly gay man, I too share your concerns.

I think it might be advisable to invite gay men, lesbians and transgendered adults to speak to the GSA groups. These children need to know that there are people who have gone through the same issues they are experiencing. They need to see that we do become successful people who work, have friends and have very fulfilling lives. They need to know that there are people just like them that they can talk to or go to for strength and support. These children often feel alienated. We need to build a support system for these kids now!!!

Perhaps if they know that there are people like them that they can talk to about their feelings, their anguish, etc. we CAN help to prevent needless suicides.
Good for you
As an Education Officer in an Ontario School Board I shaer your concern. i am openly gay and am unsure how it will affect me when I go back into an elementary school as a Pricipal but can no longer be quiet when so many of our children are having such difficult times they opt for suicide over life. We need to ensure our Safe Schools policies are more than only words. They must be acted upon. It is time for communities to start calling boards and asking to see PROOF of what they do to protect their LGBTQ students. The time for simple talk is over.
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