November 25, 2017

DAVIE VILLAGE POST Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada LGBTQ2+ Hub
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OPINION: SOGI Program, LGBTQ Inclusive Education

Response to Barry Neufeld’s outburst on the SOGI program

“I can no longer sit on my hands. I have to stand up and be counted.” Said Barry Neufeld in his recent rant on the LGBTQ+ Community and how the schools in our communities are trying to raise awareness and create a generation of kids who understand equality and embracing people in a way that Mr. Neufeld obviously never had the chance to learn. However, I start this article with his quote as it seemed fitting; for I also can no longer sit on my hands. I was given a voice, I was given a heart full of love and I was given a mind that is open and therefore I have to stand up and be counted as well.

I believe that the SOGI program will be beneficial to students! It will allow them to begin to understand something that they would otherwise not have the opportunity to learn about. This is not a program brought into our schools to brain wash our children, it has come because there are kids in our schools who are literally dying because we have not informed our kids on the LGBTQ+ community and its struggles. I would suggest that this program is not only set up for the students but there is an opportunity to have an adult class as well. I also believe that teachers, coaches and principals should take the course as well as sensitivity training. This is not a subject that is just for kids to learn, but something we all need to be more educated on. Perhaps if the members of City Council and other leaders in our community needed to take courses such as these, then individuals such as Mr. Neufeld would be more inclined to keep his personal opinions to himself and his close friends rather than go about it the way in which he chose to.
Before diving into Mr. Neufeld’s opinion, however, I need readers to understand a few facts about the LGBTQ+ Community that are not known to general public unless they are searched out, unfortunately.

The HARD TRUTH about what the LGBTQ+ community lives with every day in our own country:

In a study done by University of British Columbia, it was found that out of 923 transgender people between the ages of 14-25 that two thirds of them had harmed themselves in the past year and more than a third of them had attempted suicide. A third of those under the age of 18 had been physically threatened or injured due to them being transgender.
Comparing the mental health status of transgendered, suicide among its youth is up 5-7% when compared to the general public.

In a recent study, ‘Being Safe, Being me’ the numbers were staggering with the self harm among the LGBTQ+ youth. Self harm is an expression of hurt, struggle, no support and many other larger issues. One of those larger issues is the fact that 70% of the LGBTQ+ youth that were taking part in this study admitted to being sexually harassed, with very close to 25% of those being victims of rape. 55% reported being bullied, 33% of that was done online, and two thirds of those said it was due to their gender identity.

Are you reading this?! In our own communities, kids are being bullied, being raped, sexually harassed because of who they choose to love or because they feel like they do not belong in their bodies! And we are idly standing by letting people like Mr. Neufeld speak his slander in which enables this all to continue to happen. I digress, I will continue with some more eye opening facts for you all.

In another study done on LGBTQ+ youth in their schools (all my references will be attached) it was found that 64% of LGBTQ+ youth and 61% with LGBTQ+ parents reported feeling unsafe at school. 74% of transgendered youth and 55% of LGB youth report being verbally abused about their sexual identity. 21% report being physically harassed or assaulted about their orientation. 37% of trans-youth report being physically harassed or assaulted due to their gender expression and 49% of trans-youth reported being sexually assaulted due to their gender expression.

Is anyone else reading this getting emotional? Rather than school be a place where these kids can go to learn about their subjects, connect with friends and feel safe, it has become a place of fear, social exclusion, marginalization, and isolation. How are these kids supposed to learn when they are in ‘fight or flight’ mode constantly at school?

This fear is why 30.2% of LGBTQ+ students skip school compared to the 11% of the rest of the student population. Seriously, 50% of the LGBTQ+ student population quietly admits that they feel as though they do not belong, they are not wanted or supported, whereas in the general population, it is only 3.5%.

What happens when youth feel like they do not belong? I will inform you! They turn to substance abuse, self harm, suicide, run away, or as the study says, it is harder for them to have a successful transition into adulthood.

In 2009, a report that was published on homophobia and transphobia at Canadian schools; the findings were that:
– Three quarters of LGB students and 95% of Tran’s students felt unsafe at school in comparison of one fifth of straight students.
– Many of these students were not comfortable talking to their teachers, principal, or coach about LGBTQ+ issues.
– Only one in five could talk to a parent comfortably, and three quarters could talk to a close friend.
So, normally, teachers, coaches and principal’s are all safe points of contact for students, but this is not the case for the LGBTQ+ students.

Due to all of these factors, the LGBTQ+ students of Canada face the following:
– Peer victimization
– Low self esteem
– Poor academic achievement, truancies and high dropout rate for high school
– Higher rates of sexual harassment
– Higher rates of teen pregnancy and dating violence
– Homelessness and street sex work with consequences of an increased risk of HIV
– High rates of suicide
– Higher prevalence and potential incidence for depression and suicide related symptoms.

I really could go on with all of this, but how about instead of going by what I say, or what individuals like Mr. Neufeld say, you do your own research.

How can we make positive change?

After reading all of these facts, do any of you know how we can help remedy the problem? How can we help turn these numbers around, keep kids from turning to self harm and suicide because they are unsupported, alone, assaulted and living in fear?

It is such an easy fix……to those of us with an open mind. We start teaching our kids to see people as people! You do not have to agree with trans parents supporting their children, but removing the education in which is trying to reduce the assaults, the harassment, suicides and rape is not disagreeing, it is enabling and encouraging these acts to continue.

Mr. Neufeld and the posse of people who decide to stand with him, they are entitled to their opinion. Just like the leader of our neighbors to the south, they prove themselves to be small minded, and living their lives in fear of what they do not understand and will do anything, including letting violence and hatred run their mouths and minds.

However, what should not be allowed to happen is for their say to have any weight. In a country that prides itself in being embracing of other cultures, other beliefs and being an example to others in keeping peace; how are we stuck on who people love or what their comfortable gender is? Does this matter so much that we are taking time away from focusing on real problems in this world, such as hunger and poverty in our own neighborhood, domestic violence that happens next door, sex trafficking that happens at our local pools, schools and drop in centre’s…. There are many large scale issues that need our attention.

What I am personally doing to create the change we need:

I was a counselor, a mentor and a life coach for years. I graduated with my BA in Counseling from a Christian college, which is rather humorous, and after all this time, I changed my career. For the past 3 years I have been planning a music festival that’s intention is literally combating what Mr. Neufeld and others in his mind set have said.

Rainbowfest is geared towards the LGBTQ+ community, but we welcome all those who have an open heart and mind.

Our manifesto is:
We are creating a world, a 3 day world. Where when people walk through our gates, it does not matter what color their skin is, what color their hair is, what language they speak, who they love or how many they love. It does not matter what they do for a living, how much money they make; it does not matter if they wear business suits by day and show girls outfits by night, it does not matter if they identify as male or female or neither or both! When people walk through our gates, they are home and they unite as one tribe. Rainbowfest is a place we feel safe, we feel supported, encouraged, respected, and loved for who we are. No strings attached and no one to put us in a box of expectations and restrictions. For 3 days, we are creating the perfect world. We will bring food to give you nutrition, water to hydrate, a roof (tent!) over your head to keep you dry, fire to keep you warm. Together we will dance, we will build relationships, we will send out positive and keep out negativity, together we will break down walls of judgment, we will lift off the heavy blanket of oppression; together we will rise, join hands and become one tribe. A tribe that emulates and embraces love in all its forms.

Rainbowfest is being created so this beautifully diverse community has a safe place to be themselves. It is unifying us and becoming our platform for giving back to the community.

We will be donating a percentage of proceeds to Canada Mental Health Association and ‘Safe Spaces’. We are firm believers in removing the stigma around mental health and the ‘Safe Spaces’ program (put on by Interior Community Services) is a refuge for LGBTQ+ youth who need counseling, guidance, support, and a place to meet others.

If we could make our schools a place where LGBTQ+ students feel safe, our communities a place where everyone feels wanted and involved, and our country a place that other world leaders look at and see us leading by example; then and only then will we see what it is like to live in harmony with everyone. Then, events like Rainbowfest would not have to exist.

Don’t allow our LGBTQ+ community to become casualties of our society:

And so I end this article with a plea. A plea for those who support the SOGI program, those who support equality, those who live a life of love, those who respect themselves and others; please speak up! Spread this like wildfire. Let us stop accepting the small minded opinions of others as truth, stop allowing fear of something we do not understand to keep our fellow humans in a place of marginalization, and stop living life with blinders on as ignoring topics such as these enables bullying and violence.

As parents, teach our children to love one another, to see beauty in everyone, and to respect lives that are different than our own.

For example this was one of my recent posts on social media:
One day while shopping with my at the time 4 year old, we came across an older gentleman with long silver hair and beard who was wearing a beautiful fitted red sparkly cocktail dress and heels. She looked at them across the produce section and asked why a man was wearing a dress and said that it was weird. It is funny, but I was thankful in that moment for their bravery in wearing their beautiful outfit to the grocery store. It allowed a conversation to happen! I proceeded to ask my daughter if she thought they felt beautiful, she responded “yes”. I then explained that dresses don’t have to be just for girls, neither does pink, nor nail polish, or high heels or anything! If that person feels confident and beautiful in what they are wearing than we should be happy for them and support it. She understood after a few minutes, so then I asked if she liked the outfit, she said yes that it was beautiful; “then why don’t we go tell him?!” She got excited and agreed, and so we did. She complimented their dress and how the shoes matched, and I agreed with her and then we said have a good day and parted ways. Ever since then she has grasped the concept that it doesn’t matter, and from time to time we see our “friend” at the grocery store and always wave and smile.
It is so important to teach our children to remove the expectations and boundaries put on us, to not judge, and to see the beauty in people.

As teachers, coaches, and principals, let us make sure that we are safe place for LGBTQ+ youth to come to about the struggles that they face every day.
As community leaders, lead by example!

To the committee in charge of putting the SOGI program into place in our schools, first and foremost, thank you. Thank you for seeing the need for change, the need for awareness, and education. However a few points that could help make this program successful (after speaking to several different classes at different high schools and hearing what the students had to say) are the following:
– Make sure that the program is set up to educate the appropriate subjects to the appropriate ages. Perhaps the elementary years can focus more on the fact that families do not consist solely of a ‘mother and father and kids” but rather they come in many shapes and forms. Same-sex parents are still parents and it is still considered a family. As well as erasing the gender bias’ and roles of “boys like blue and become firemen and girls like pink and become moms” etc. And as you get into the middle school years, focusing on understanding sexual orientation, the importance of not acting out in ignorance and hatred if it is different than you and you don’t understand. Then in high school bring in the gender orientation, and go over the other topics in deeper way since the mental capacity of high school students is greater than middle and elementary.
– Make sure that the teachers at the school are not the ones who are teaching the material. It was a unanimous vote from the students that it was imperative that this was not the case. The topic needs to be taught by individuals who have been trained to do so in a sensitive manner, who know and understand the material and how to create a safe space in which to learn it, ask questions and get into discussions.

And to Mr. Neufeld, the members of the “Parents United Canada” group, please, by all means, pack your bags and head to Russia and Paraguay. The less negative and hateful minds we have in this country the better. Perhaps we could set up a trade! All of you for all of their LGBTQ+ individuals. We would rather embrace the hurt who believe in love than sit back and listen to the venom you spew from your mouths. This world could do with a little more love, light, rainbows and unicorns and a lot less hate.

Mariel Anderson
Founder & Executive Director
Spectrum Events Inc/Rainbowfest
www.rainbowfest.ca

Link: BC HOME:  SOGI, LGBTQ inclusive education is as simple as SOGI 123

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