After the death of Allen Hubley’s son he cried, “Why do people have to be cruel to our children when all they want to do is be loved?” (CBC, 2011).
Jamie Hubley committed suicide at the age of 15, as a result of the ongoing torment he encountered from his peers in regards to his open sexuality in high school. The oppression that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) students experience from bullying has become an increasingly prevalent issue in elementary and high school settings. Jamie Hubley’s death serves to prove the imperative need for society to combat discrimination in order to avoid such tragedies from occurring in the future. My question then is why has our educational system still done nothing to incorporate LGBTQ issues into sexuality and health classes?
The Ottawa Citizen reported that suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged ten to twenty-four and disproportionately affects gay, bisexual and transgender youth (2011). A survey conducted on high school students by Robinson and Espelage reported that suicide attempts for straight respondents within the last year accounted for 0.03% of the population and for LGBTQ students 9.2%. The media continues to argue that it’s not discrimination of the LGBTQ community but rather bullying, in its simplest form that must be addressed. I slap my forehead in disbelief when I hear these words fall from the flapping mouths of columnists and politicians who omit the severity of gay intolerance. In my opinion these bigots have no right to speak to these issues and with such views cannot possibly have any personal experience or insight of the inequality the LGBTQ community has continued to endure. Ask Jamie Hubley’s family, or any family who has had a member who felt so much prejudice from their sexual orientation that they ended their own life.
Gay marriage has been legal in our country since 2005, yet the educational system that teaches sexuality, in all its forms has remained the same. We fail to see any gender diversity taught in our public schools and especially in our publicly funded catholic schools. We fight for equality in the public sphere yet this is a right we deny to youth still confined to the public system. Until students leave high school the state refuses to preach, teach or discuss acceptance of sexual diversity.
Wicker explains LGBTQ students often feel so unsafe in their own school environment that they will compromise the degree of their sexual identity they share in order to feel safe (2008). Gay Straight Alliances (GSA’S) have shown to be successful ways of creating safe spaces for LGBTQ students. These GSA’s can also be effective in combating LGBTQ bullying and improving a school environment by bringing heterosexual students and LGBTQ students together. When someone is public with his or her sexuality it can decrease the negative stigma of ‘closeted’ students and decrease bullying (Rees-Turyn, 2007). Jamie Hubley was an example of an openly gay student, but his efforts to form a GSA did not manifest in time to save his life. The support he strived to attain never unfolded and all we have left is another dead teenager; his blood on the hands of the bully’s that drove him to such lows.
School cultures are extremely hostile toward any form of gender and sexual diversity. I have also seen the dismissive and unchallenged language educators use to reproduce heteronormative ideals. When teachers say nothing when they hear the words ‘fag and ‘queer’ they send a message that students who do not conform to heterosexual gender norms are not welcome. While this may not always be the case schools continue to teach the same sexuality courses which do not include discussions of LGBTQ relationships or sexual practices (Elia, 2010).
Sexual education reiterates narrow-minded views when children are taught sexuality at a time when their ideas and values are so easily influenced. Elia who studied queer oppression states that, “education involves something that disrupts our commonsense view of the world” (2010). If a child is not educated about gender and sexual diversity at a young age, encountering anything that disrupts their hetero-normative ideals is seen as ‘un-natural’. It is anti-democratic in a pluralistic society like ours to focus only on one narrow subset of sexual values. It is time our education system alters its curriculum as a means to normalize diversified sexualities and in turn prevent discrimination.
School environments must advance in order to foster a safer and more accepting setting for future LGBTQ generations. Although there are activists fighting for such rights, there is still a long way to go. LGBTQ students are often the victims of violence, hatred and aggression. Schools must become safe havens for all by educating staff, parents and students in the language of diversity and acceptance. Our society is ever changing so the education system and the school curriculum must change with it.
Ronald Gold, the first media director of the, National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, once said, “The diagnosis of homosexuality as a ‘disorder’ is a contributing factor to the pathology of those homosexuals who do become mentally ill…. Nothing is more likely to make you sick than being constantly told that you are sick.” It’s time we wake up and realize who really characterizes the sick in this situation; that being the outdated value system we continue to reproduce in a publicly funded system.