Sunday, December 04, 2011

A Step in the Right Direction - But Not Enough

This past week, the Edmonton Public School Board approved a sexual orientation and gender identity policy. This policy was put in place to protect students, staff, and their families from bullying and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identification. This was a needed move that is a step in the right direction.

However, it is not enough. The EPSB needs to adopt a zero tolerance policy towards bullying, regardless of its nature. I should know. I was bullied and harassed almost daily throughout the latter part of my elementary school days through junior high. If I was a student now, the school would take very seriously the anti-gay epithets that were hurled at me on a regular basis. However, what about simply being called a bitch? Or fat? Or the multitude of things I either cannot repeat in polite company (nor do I care to relive at the moment)?

Here is a concrete example. When my parents met with the principal of my school to discuss with him the things I finally broke down and told them concerning how my fellow students were treating me, he put much of the blame on me - in particular, he pointed to the fashion accessories I was fond of wearing (a leather-studded bracelet). He even had the nerve to speak of this to my face. "If this was my daughter's," he said, holding the offending cuff in his hands, "it would disappear." I stopped wearing the bracelet, but the bullying continued.

Flip to the present day. Let's say I am back in grade seven, and my pimply, awkward self was wearing a necklace or bracelet with a rainbow on it. The principal could not blame me and would have to take action, because the rainbow is a symbol concerning sexual identity (and in my case, my support of people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, questioning, and transgendered. However, the same cannot be said of my leather and metal studded monstrosity. Both accessories demonstrate my personality and individuality, and it is a human right to wear whatever I want. The main difference is that I am only fully protected by my school if I am wearing the rainbow.

Bullying attacks someone for being who they are. By its very nature, it is an act of prejudice and intolerance. It damages someone to the core of their being. Regardless of the reason why, it needs to be stopped. I comment the EPSB for their actions this past week, and I hope that it is indicative of a zero tolerance bullying policy across the board in the near future.

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