Edmonton Public Schools motion to create sexual minority policy

LGBTQ Policy Change
Andre Arsenault, a grade 12 student at Jasper Place High School, poses in front of on of JP’s Gay Straight Alliance posters. As a member of the GSA, Andre feels as if he is making strides to improving the perception of LGBTQ students, and considers the club as his home away from home. Photograph by Claire Theobald.

By Claire Theobald

EDMONTON — At a board meeting held March 8, 2011, the Edmonton Public School Board became the first school district in Alberta to motion for the creation of a sexual minority policy.

The policy ensures the safety and security of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) students, and make a clear stand against homophobic-related bullying in schools.

Board Chair Dave Colburn believes not only is this the first time a motion like this has been passed in Alberta, but it may be the first of its kind in all of the prairie provinces.

“We are excited that we are the first board in the prairies to create that policy,” Colburn said. “But at the same time, I think it’s fair to say we’re hopeful that this will generate discussion and further policy development in other jurisdictions, so this type of policy becomes the norm.”

For Josh Zaidler, teacher and sponsor of the Gay Straight Alliance club at Jasper Place School, policies like the one suggested by the EPSB is a step towards achieving equal rights for sexual minorities.

“The GSA students were really excited,” Zaidler said. “I think, for them it really is a landmark that officially states there are things that are acceptable, and things that are unacceptable, and you can’t be treated differently or unfairly because of your sexual identity.”

Jasper Place student Andre Arsenault, an active member of the GSA, says policies like this are necessary if society is to become more accepting of the LGBTQ community.

“We’re here, and we don’t bite.” Aresnault added “We are human.”

The public, according to Colburn, has been overwhelmingly accepting of the proposal, with only a few critics worried about the effectiveness of the plan, as well as any potential extra costs incurred by the policy. However, that is not to say that Alberta has embraced the LGBTQ community completely.

“There are many brilliant minds, and progressive minds, and far reaching conversations about values that are taking place across the country, in the prairie provinces, [and] everywhere.” Colburn said. “But my guess is, when you look at policies being created in other parts of the country and not in the prairie provinces, one has to wonder about the conservative political climate.”

Zaidler acknowledged that progress on these types of projects throughout the prairies is slow, but motions like those passed by the EPSB are a definite foot forward for sexual minorities.

“I think movements start slowly and spread,” Zaidler said, “and I think any time you start to open up a dialogue, you start to increase understanding.”

One criticism against the policy is arguing that a separate policy is unnecessary, as previous policies already serve well to protect students.

“We have to support students mentally, spiritually and physically,”said Jillian Marino, principal of Jasper Place School. “So, if I have two students in my school, and one of them is a victim of another in any of those three realms, I have to take action on that.”

Colburn believes that, due to the wealth of research and reports suggesting that, despite universal policies, LGBTQ staff and students are not getting the level of protection they need.

“Creating a stand alone LGBTQ policy will strengthen out response,” Coblurn said. “ [And] will draw back the curtain on the issue of persecution and discrimination in schools, [and] create a safer environment.”

Although this policy is not expected to be completed until at least the end of the year, staff and students at Edmonton public schools will continue to do whatever it takes to ensure the fair treatment of all staff and students.

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