Five-year-old Riley White, right, and her sister Bella, three, wave rainbow flags at the Pride in the Park celebration at Bower Ponds during Central Alberta Pride Week in 2019. This week a motion by one of the trustees to establish Pride Week at Red Deer Public Schools was defeated. (Photo by Advocate staff)

Five-year-old Riley White, right, and her sister Bella, three, wave rainbow flags at the Pride in the Park celebration at Bower Ponds during Central Alberta Pride Week in 2019. This week a motion by one of the trustees to establish Pride Week at Red Deer Public Schools was defeated. (Photo by Advocate staff)

Red Deer Public School division should reconsider Pride Week

This week, my heart broke as I read the headlines that trustees at Red Deer Public Schools have voted down Pride Week motion.

The headlines brought back a memory of a close friend, who had just come out as gay, being slammed against the lockers after gym class in junior high. It brought back a memory of walking out of class in Grade 12 to protest changes to Gay-Straight Alliances Jason Kenney had proposed and having homophobic slurs tossed our way.

For the past two years, I have been president of Red Deer College’s Education Undergraduate Society. I represent over 500 School of Education students and help ensure that they have the tools they need to enter the world of education. When I read the headlines, I worried about these college students who are witnessing such a regressive decision being made in 2021. I worried about these students who will one day enter schools and have to witness, as teachers, what I witnessed as a student.

Why does this decision matter? Hopefully, these numbers will help put this into perspective (if my personal anecdotes did not): According to the Calgary-based Centre for Suicide Prevention, lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth are “five times more likely to consider suicide” and “seven times more likely to attempt suicide.”

In addition, LGTBQ students are three times more likely to “experience discrimination” than their heterosexual peers, as stated by the Canadian Institute of Health Research in 2012. With disturbing numbers such as these, why should we not do everything in our power to create a supportive environment for these students?

The motion for a Pride Week was defeated, with only two trustees supporting voting in favour. The decision of trustees to vote against this motion is in direct opposition to the division’s 2015 Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity policy that aims to “foster a sense of belonging” in their schools. I sincerely hope that the trustees reconsider, and instead choose to put into action their own policies.

While a Pride Week will certainly not rid schools of homophobia, it will be a significant step in the right direction; it will provide youth an opportunity to celebrate that for which they are often harmed.

William Langille is the president of Red Deer College’s Education Undergraduate Society.