Richmond school trustee pushes for more LGBT-friendly approach for students

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      Gay and lesbian issues don’t have a great deal of visibility in Richmond. At St. Alban Anglican Church, the minister, Rev. Margaret Cornish, is married to a woman, making her perhaps the highest-profile member of the LGBT community in the region’s fourth-largest city.

      There’s also a weekly drop-in support group for “youth of all identities” called Allways, which runs from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesday afternoons at South Arm Community Centre (8880 Williams Road). In addition, there’s a meet-up group called the Lazy Lesbians of Richmond, which gathers for activities like hiking, biking, walking, and social events.

      The city is hosting an event during Pride Week: a rainbow social for LGBT adults 55 and older at the West Richmond Community Centre (9180 No. 1 Road) from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursday (July 30). But there are no rainbow flags flying on top of Richmond City Hall, and the Richmond school board is one of only two in the Lower Mainland (Coquitlam’s is the other) that have not passed a policy or implemented a procedure to make LGBT students feel more welcome.

      This rankles a rookie school trustee, Sandra Nixon, who describes herself as an “ally” of the LGBT community.

      In a phone interview with the Georgia Straight, Nixon, a United Church minister, said she supports professional-development training to educate district staff on how to respond to homophobia, harassment, and questions from students about sexual orientation and gender identity in an age-appropriate manner. The Richmond Teachers Association told her that there are “three or four” gay-straight alliances in the district, but she couldn’t find any listed on secondary-school websites.

      “I think the district needs to actually lead by example and take a leadership role rather than say because no one is overtly voicing a concern, that there must not be an issue,” Nixon said.

      In the last election campaign, Nixon made no secret of her wish to improve how the district addresses sexual orientation and gender identity. Since being elected, she’s raised this issue on the policy committee but hasn’t presented a motion to the board.

      “I think the position of the administration of the school district was that ‘Our code of conduct covers all discrimination and bullying, and that’s all we need. We don’t need a special policy for one segment of students because we can’t write a policy for every circumstance,’ ” she said.

      Nixon doesn’t agree with that stance.

      “It’s not just about protection for students who identify as LGBTQ,” she said. “It’s about actually creating that welcoming and serving environment and creating a space where they can really thrive.”

      At her urging, district administrative staff have offered to speak to high-school administrators about whether a district policy is necessary. Nixon said district staff have returned with verbal reports, but she wants more written information.

      “They’ve wanted to just have it go under the radar—not put on the books, particularly,” she alleged. “So I’m going to be pushing on that coming into the fall and asking for specific feedback. What schools have you spoken to? Have they been asked about a policy?”

      Nixon said that a district-sponsored student leadership group, the Association for Building Leadership Excellence in School District #38, could start a conversation about LGBT issues with other students. Nixon also supports a districtwide discussion with parents and teachers “at the appropriate time”. She suggested that this could occur after a task force completes “theoretical work” on an upcoming consultation process around educational philosophy and the district’s code of conduct.

      Meanwhile, the trustee said she’s encouraged that some schools have posted rainbow stickers and bulletin-board displays about LGBT issues. But she’s not convinced that this is sufficient.

      “I want to see in-depth consultation and dialogue that involves all stakeholders, that involves students,” Nixon said, “and maybe even mandating for schools to have their own explicit policies.”