To err is human.
We have often heard that adage.
But the Red Deer Public School board’s recent decision, to not have a district-wide Pride Week, no longer seems like an error in judgment.
The school board trustees had the chance to reconsider their original decision, when presentations were made by the members of the LGBTQ community and their allies at a school board meeting on March 10.
The school division closed the door on Pride Week in mid-February when it opted instead for a Diversity Week. The motion by one of the trustees to establish Pride Week was defeated 2-4. A motion for a Diversity Week later passed 4-2.
There is plenty of debate on this decision. Some feel a division-wide Diversity Week, which would be inclusive of everyone, should be enough and sends a message that everyone is important – that giving the LGBTQ youth ‘special treatment’ is not the way to go.
This ongoing debate reminds us of what we saw worldwide and even in Red Deer last summer. Black Lives Matter movement advocates took to downtown Red Deer streets while the All Lives Matter group held counter protests.
When people celebrate Pride Week or stand up for the Black Lives Matter movement they aren’t saying that other people don’t matter or aren’t as important. It isn’t about elevating one group over another. They are asking that we, as a community, recognize the unique struggles these groups continue to face.
Put it this way: We celebrate Mother’s Day in May every year by making her breakfast and showering her with presents and love. But that doesn’t mean we don’t love our moms on the other 364 days of the year, does it? Or that we love mom more than we love dad?
On its own, there’s nothing wrong with a district-wide Diversity Week celebration. But to compare Diversity and Pride Week, as if one makes up for the other, or to marry the two, is a mistake.
Kristopher Wells, associate professor at MacEwan University, who specializes in sexual and gender minority youth and education, puts it well. He told the Advocate trying to lump everything into a catch-all Diversity Week does a disservice to everyone.
“It’s sort of a bland, generic approach that we might have seen 10 or 15 years ago. Right now we understand the specificity and importance of celebrating the unique identity and cultures of the students who attend our schools. That’s exactly why Pride Week exists.”
Some argue schools should focus on learning and a celebration such as Pride Week shouldn’t be on the table. Although, math and English would be the primary focus of any school, those making this argument need to see that students spend a lot of time at schools, with their peers, where they also learn other skills beyond math and English. They learn about respect, team work, socialization skills and so on.
Unfortunately, they may also come face-to-face with their bully on school grounds.
According to Egale, Canada’s national LGBTQ+ human rights organization, 37 per cent of trans students and 21 per cent of sexual minority students reported being physically harassed or assaulted because of their gender expression. This was seen in the Every Class in Every School Report 2011 available on egale.ca/every-class/.
Thoughts of suicide and suicide-related behaviours are more frequent among LGBTQ youth in comparison to their non-LGBTQ peers, reports Statistics Canada.
According to a fact sheet available on Egale.ca, about 33 per cent of LGB youth have attempted suicide in comparison to seven per cent of youth in general (Saewyc 2007).
These statistics are grim and should show the need for a Pride Week.
A week-long Pride Week can offer LGBTQ youth a safe space to be able to express themselves freely without any judgment.
For others, it can provide an opportunity to show solidarity so together we can have conversations around the movement, educate ourselves and overcome the stigma.
The fact that we are still having to debate this issue today shows us just how badly we need Pride Week in our schools and community.
Mamta Lulla is managing editor at the Red Deer Advocate.