The debate over how to counteract homophobic bullying in schools has been quite a contentious issue here in Metro Vancouver. But a new North American study will investigate how successful different strategies actually are, and why they work.
The Canadian Institutes of Health Research is funding a $2-million, five-year study entitled "Reducing Stigma, Promoting Resilience: Population Health Interventions for LGBTQ Youth". The study represents their largest investment devoted to health and school issues regarding sexual orientation.
The study will not be limited to queer youth but will encompass how straight students are impacted as well. Contrary to misconceptions that only one particular demographic, namely queer youth, is affected, homophobia can affect and be used against all youth, whether straight or queer. Take the example of former North Vancouver high school student Azmi Jubran, who identifies as straight, who won a landmark case against the North Vancouver School District in 2005. He took the school district to the B.C. Human Rights tribunal for failing to do anything about the homophobic bullying he was subjected to for five years .
"In any high school, there are far more heterosexual teens than lesbian, gay, bisexual, or questioning teens, and because of this, we have found half or more of those targeted for anti-gay harassment actually identify as straight," UBC School of Nursing professor and principal investigator Elizabeth Saewyc stated in a news release. "There isn't much research about them, but what there is suggests they have the same health consequences as LGBTQ youth who are bullied."
The study will take a multifaceted approach. Researchers will examine strategies that various North American schools have implemented to minimize bullying. They will also document trends in health and safety among youth in B.C., Atlantic provinces, Minnesota, and Massachusetts, based on existing school surveys.
Health issues will be explored by region, gender, sexual orientation (including straight), and ethnicity. In addition, the long-term effects of homophobic bullying on LGBT youth, and how families, schools, and communities can help, will be documented. Case studies of school districts and community programs will be cited to explain what helps to improve things and how it works.
Saewyc, professor of nursing and adolescent medicine, will head the study, which will be conducted with 15 co-investigators. Canadian researchers from Halifax, Montreal, Waterloo, Winnipeg, Edmonton, and Vancouver will be joined by American researchers from Boston and Arizona. B.C. researchers include UBC associate professor Sheila Marshall, McCreary Centre Society executive director Annie Smith, and B.C. Ministry of Health executive director Warren O'Briain with his senior team.
Concern about homophobia and bullying in North American schools have been heightened over the past few years due to a series of widely covered cases of troubled youth who were bullied. The Georgia Straight's sex advice columnist Dan Savage launched the It Gets Better campaign in 2010 to help send messages of hope to troubled queer youth.
In October of last year, openly gay 15-year-old Jamie Hubley, who suffered from depression, committed suicide, after being relentlessly teased and bullied throughout elementary and high school.
Here in British Columbia, numerous activists, organizations, and politicians are calling for the implementation of a provincial anti-homophobia and -transphobia policy in schools. Meanwhile, an ongoing debate over the Vancouver School Board's antihomophobia policy arose due to concerns by and controversies over the actions of VSB trustees Ken Denike and Sophia Woo.