The sexual orientation and gender identification policy created by the Sea to Sky School District about a year ago wasn’t nearly as controversial as a similar policy passed in May by the Vancouver School District board of trustees.
While concerned Vancouver parents debated the policy, Howe Sound Secondary (HSS) students such as David Thomson and Sarah Friestadt were enjoying the Sea to Sky policy’s positive benefits without even really knowing it existed.
Thomson and Friestadt are members of the Diversity Club at HSS, a club that meets once a week during the school year. Thomson said the club is a safe place for him compared to his experiences at other schools.
“When I was in elementary school, I had a very horrific time growing up gay,” he said during a recent interview in the office of HSS principal Dr. Christine Perkins. “I was abused physically and mentally by my peers and it was terrifying.”
Thompson knew by Grade 7 that he was gay. He was open about it from the time he understood his sexual orientation.
“I was the only person that I knew in town at that moment who was gay,” he said.
When Thomson started school at HSS in Grade 10 he discovered the school’s Diversity Club and the tolerant club members who accepted him exactly as he was. He said he could be himself around the club members.
According to Friestadt, the club normally attracts between 15 and 20 people who like to talk about rarely discussed issues.”
“It’s a place where all these people can come together and hear different people’s points of view and perspectives on what’s going on in our society and the world,” Friestadt said.
“We talk a lot about politics and stuff that’s happening.”
Taboo topics tackled by the club include mental health and gay rights.
“I’m just really passionate about social injustice,” Friestadt said. “I like to be involved and try to make change.”
Tolerance is the focus of the Sea to Sky School District’s sexual orientation policy, which was endorsed by the board of trustees last year after the draft policy went through a consultation process.
According to Perkins, the policy is designed to generate a safe atmosphere and a respectful environment.
“It lets them know that if, for example, David was being bullied like he was many years ago, we would be there to support him and stop it 100 per cent,” Perkins said.
“It allows us to speak openly about being gay and understanding that everyone is accepted for exactly the way they walk through the door.”
Most students aren’t aware of the policy, said Perkins, but all the students understand that being different is accepted at HSS.
“When they walk in, they see the pride flag flying and they hear us say that it’s OK to be gay and straight at our schools and they know that we have transgender bathrooms,” Perkins said.
Transgender washrooms have stirred controversy at Vancouver schools.
Thompson said he doesn’t understand all the drama generated by the policy debate in Vancouver.
“It’s exciting to see that there’s a conversation,” Thomson said.
Perkins is keen to see the conversation spread throughout the Sea to Sky district. She would like to see diversity clubs at every school in School District 48.
“It gives students a safe space to talk,” Perkins said.