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Maple Ridge trustees OK anti-homophobia policy

The Fruit Salad Organization is encouraging the school board to adopt a policy to help protect gay teens at local school schools; earlier this year the group collected signatures for its Lemon Pledge, for which students promised to be tolerant and accepting of all fellow students, regardless of sexuality or gender. - Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS
The Fruit Salad Organization is encouraging the school board to adopt a policy to help protect gay teens at local school schools; earlier this year the group collected signatures for its Lemon Pledge, for which students promised to be tolerant and accepting of all fellow students, regardless of sexuality or gender.
— image credit: Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS

The District Education Office was a sea of pink Wednesday night as dozens of gay and lesbian high school students, along with their friends, families and supporters, came en masse to encourage school board trustees to adopt a policy to protect students from homophobic bullying.

Trustees eventually voted unanimously in favour of such a policy, after hearing how bullying had affected the teens’ lives.

Students from Maple Ridge, Garibaldi, Thomas Haney, and Samuel Robertson Technical secondary schools shared with trustees their stories of being bullied at local schools because of their perceived sexuality.

Name-calling, intimidation and violence are commonplace, students described.

One student spoke of the bullying she endured causing her such anxiety, that she contemplated suicide.

The students asked trustees to consider adopting an anti-homophobia policy similar to those already in place in 15 school districts around the province.

Trustees, each dressed in pink for Pink Shirt Day, a provincial anti-bullying campaign, voted unanimously in favour of helping to protect gay and lesbian students from homophobia by drafting a policy to that end.

Erin Talbot, a teacher at Samuel Robertson Technical who helped organize the rally, and said she couldn’t be prouder of her kids for standing up for students affected by homophobic bullying.

“It was truly awe-inspiring, one of those rare moments of pure humanity,” she said.

However, their fight is far from over, she said.

“Our job isn’t over, and we have a long way to go,” she said. “As progressive as we are here in Canada, there’s still more we can do.”

Talbot said she’d like to see legislation at the provincial to protect gay and lesbian teens.

District superintendent Jan Unwin called the students who came forward to share their stories “courageous.”

“When you become aware that you have kids who are experiencing this, it’s incumbent on you to take action,” she said. “It’s up to us to ensure they can come to school and be safe, and have it be memorable and enjoyable for them.”

Unwin said staff will draft a policy before bringing it back to trustees for a final vote.

Trustee Eleanor Palis said the policy will help create a more tolerant atmosphere in local schools.

“This lets kids know we’ve got their backs,” she said.

Maple Ridge Teachers’ Association president George Serra supported the policy, saying that homophobic bullying is still a grim reality for many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered students.

“All students who attend schools in Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows deserve to feel safe and that they can fully participate in all aspects of school life regardless of sexual orientation, gender, race or culture,” he said. “Schools are places where we learn. To learn and accept each other is not only a human right, but a freedom we all need to strive for,” he said.

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