September 16, 2009

Gay teens 'terrorized' in Canada's schools: prof, Catherine Taylor, By Nick Martin , Winnipeg Free Press, Sept. 14, 2009

Dr. Catherine Taylor, professor of education and communications at the University of Winnipeg

WINNIPEG — High schools are "the land that time forgot" in the ongoing battle to eradicate homophobia, says an educator researching the harassment of gay and lesbian teens in Canada's school system.

"It's a non-issue for so many people these days. They don't recognize how bad the situation is for so many people," said Catherine Taylor, a professor of education and communications at the University of Winnipeg. She and University of Manitoba sociology Prof. Tracy Peter are conducting a national survey of homophobia in schools.

"Kids are being tormented and terrorized, and very little is being done about it."

Taylor says the findings of their first phase are not surprising: the vast majority of gay and lesbian students who responded to the survey reported verbal homophobic attacks in their high school — sometimes physical abuse — and could identify areas of their school where they don't feel safe, such as washrooms, gym change rooms and hallways.

In a school environment where teenagers freely use pejoratives such as "fag" and "queer" to browbeat anyone seen as different, few students are brave enough to step forward and condemn the abuse, said Taylor.

As well, "a lot of straight kids are bullied homophobically at school," she pointed out.

The national survey of homophobia in Canadian schools is providing a database remarkably similar to surveys in the United States and United Kingdom, she said.

Taylor said 85 per cent of the respondents to the first phase of the online, anonymous survey are 'LGBTQ' — short for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning. She said she expects the second-phase survey to draw far more responses from straight students.

The researchers got consent from many school divisions across Canada this past winter to distribute extensive second-phase surveys in high school classrooms. In some parts of Canada, students themselves could choose whether to take part; in many, students under 18 needed parental consent.

Taylor said she was surprised at the welcome reception the survey received in Toronto and Ottawa, where school boards are so inundated with survey requests from university researchers that they usually say no.

"The entire province of Newfoundland and Labrador signed on, because the minister of education said this has to be done," she said.

Vancouver's school board does not involve parents at all in school discussion of sexual orientation — schools treat it as part of the mainstream school curriculum, Taylor said.

Taylor said the more detailed second-phase results should be made public in December, and her research group is applying for funding for a third phase to interview teachers across Canada.

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