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Twenty Years Later for GLBTQ Youth: How Far Have We Come?

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Gloria Filax, Athabasca University
Guest Contributor

This entry is part of the CFHSS’s VP Equity Issues series on issues related to LGBTQI2-S (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, questioning, intersex and Two-Spirited) peoples.

My doctoral work focused on GLBTQ youth during the 1990s in Alberta, which was unique in Canada for the state-sanctioned resistance to protect the basic rights of citizens who were GLBTQ.  Even while the source and particulars of oppression in Alberta were unique, the effects on GLBTQ youth and adults were similar throughout Canada.  Alberta had its own homegrown sources of queer phobia and heterosexism but these were alive and active in the rest of Canada as well.

Experiences for queer youth in the 1990s included shunning, bullying, name-calling, spitting, shoving, shaming, silencing, physical violence, alienation, isolation, whisper campaigns, and theft of personal items. When no recourse was available, queer youth disappeared from the chilly climates of schools either by dropping out, home-schooling, or enrolling in new schools.  Self-blame was reinforced through support networks.  Vulnerable queer youth were often trapped in homes, schools, and communities that encouraged self-blame instead of focusing on the real problem: community and school indifference and queer phobia.  In the worst circumstances of virtually no support networks or resources, queer youth committed suicide.

A range of people including peers, family members, and school professionals were the perpetrators of oppressive actions against GLBTQ youth in Alberta and elsewhere in Canada in the 1990s.  My research revealed that even when school professionals were not actively queer phobic they were heterosexist, assuming that there were no queer youth ‘in my school’ (interview with a principal of a large, urban high school in Edmonton).  Indifference and apathy were the rule. The message too often was that queer youth should not ‘flaunt’ their sexuality or they were accused of ‘asking for’ whatever form harassment took, especially if they were out or if their personal appearance was gender non-conforming. The best queer, in most schools, was the queer no one knew was in their midst or, better yet, the reformed queer who admitted to being confused about sexual and gender identity and was now on the straight and narrow path of redemption embodied in a two-gender, two-sexes, one sexual orientation path.

Twenty years ago the most shocking aspect of my research was that queer phobic and heterosexist oppression directed at youth and children and their families was an open secret:  most knew that these young people were being targeted.

There are many important ways to counter apathy, indifference, and active hate in schools and the communities within which schools are embedded. Important to many of the GLBTQ youth I interviewed was the fact that if and when they came out, they came ‘out of context’.  They came out into a culture of silence on anything to do with GLBTQ. As well, GLBTQ culture/s seemed to have no history, no famous folks, and no role models; labels that were only then being recuperated from their slanderous origins in the school or community; and there was a profound silence on cross cultural gender and sexual counter-normative practices.

Many school policies and practices are now in place across Alberta and the rest of Canada to counter queer phobia and heterosexism. Yet the cross-Canada study with 3,000-plus GLTBQ youth sponsored by Egale Canada and recently conducted by University of Winnipeg’s Catherine Taylor and others reveals that things are not yet satisfactory in schools across Canada.  Queer youth continue to face daily the knowledge that living as a non-conforming gendered or sexual subject has mixed consequences.

It is with this kind of research in mind that I offer the following group of headlines from the 11 October 2011 Egale Canada Daily News Clippings.  These media clippings reflect the type of representations and the world in which GLBTQ youth live.

UK civil union is not marriage: feds (Xtra.ca): Egale Canada is pleading with the federal government to think again. “Civil unions in the UK are recognized, for all intents and purposes, as equivalent to marriage and the same should hold in Canada,” says Helen Kennedy, executive director of Egale Canada.

Edmonton teen convicted in homophobic attack will serve sentence at home (Vancouver Sun) by Ryan Cormier:  A teenaged boy convicted in a homophobic attack on a woman when he was 14 will serve a six-month sentence at home. The youth cannot be identified under the Youth Criminal Justice.

Ferreira blames defeat on homophobia (Xtra.ca): Paul Ferreira blames a campaign of homophobic sabotage for his narrow defeat in the Ontario election of 6 October 2011. “There was an attempt to drive a homophobic wedge through this riding,” he explains after speaking to supporters at the Ambiance.

Unfairly judged: gay lawyers say judiciary still plagued by homophobia (The Guardian): Until 1991, unmarried men and women – including gay and lesbian lawyers – were excluded from entering the judiciary. Unsurprisingly, homophobia, or at least a strong perception of it, still lingers. According to recent research by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender legal group Interlaw, 70% of LGBT lawyers believe there is prejudice within the selection process for judicial office.

Ecuadorian Clinics Torture LGBT to "Cure" Them (Care2.com): According to the network of local LGBT organizations, clinics have also locked up gay men, transgenders and cross-dressers but on a smaller scale, “probably because they manage to leave the family earlier than girls,” says Velasquez.

Westboro Baptist Church to picket funeral of Steve Jobs (RT):
 From there, followers are guaranteed to get all the latest news on Jobs’ passing and other crucial intel, including this gem from earlier in the week: “October is Fag Month. Yes, that's what a nation of proud sinners needs – a Fag Month.

Serbia has bowed to homophobia (The Guardian):
 Just two days before the event, interior minister Ivica Dacic suddenly announced that it had been banned, along with a number of counter-demonstrations. “Because of these rallies – above all the anti-parade protests – we could expect enormous damage to public order and peace,” he explained.

Video: US student tells of ‘gay cure’ torture at hands of father: An American student has described how he was tortured for a month by his father in an effort to turn him heterosexual. Samuel Brinton, a student at Kansas State University, said his Southern Baptist missionary father beat him, burned him and shocked him with electric currents.

Gay rights activists report another murder in Johannesburg: Gay rights campaigners in South Africa say a fifth gay murder in Johannesburg suggests there may be a homophobic killer at large. In the last year, there have been four cases in which gay men were found dead in similar circumstances – bound and strangled in their homes with no sign of a break-in.

A key recommendation arising from my research and that of other GLBTQ scholars in regards to schooling was the need for an inclusive curriculum.  In marked contrast to the above survey of media representations of GLBTQ people, an inclusive curriculum in the context of an inclusive community, and especially an inclusive media, would see the production and distribution of a wide range of representations of GLBTQ people.

Gloria Filax is an associate professor of Equity/Equality Studies and Chair of the Centre for Integrated Studies at Athabasca University.

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Equity Matters

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Lesbian/ Gay/ Bisexual/ Transgendered/ Queer/ Intersex/ Two-Spirited