Jeanie Dendys, acting minister of education at legislature in Whitehorse on Nov. 27, 2017. Dendys said some of the concerns outlined in a letter received by MLAs on Nov. 6 regarding the department’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) policy have been captured in a survey intended to better include LGBTQ2S+ people in legislation, policies and services. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)

LGBTQ2S+ group raises concerns regarding discrimination in Yukon schools

Minister Jeanie Dendys told reporters changes are likely to occur

Discrimination against queer students happens “every day” in Yukon schools despite a policy brought forward by the Department of Education in 2012 to prevent it, according to a letter from Porter Creek Secondary School’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance.

The letter, received by MLAs on Nov. 6, outlines numerous concerns regarding the department’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) policy, saying that it falls short of ensuring that instances of homophobia and transphobia stop, including a lack of training and education as well as consequences for such discrimination. As a result, the group is asking for the policy to be updated and reviewed in order to “ensure that the policy is being fully implemented.”

Most concerns revolve around staff members being ill-equipped to accommodate LGBTQ2S+ students.

“Our group is concerned that staff and school administrators in Yukon schools are not responding to all complaints about homophobia and transphobia in a serious manner and have not been provided with specific policies and procedures to deal with such complaints effectively and consistently,” it says.

The letter goes on to say that students aren’t receiving clinical counselling “and this is having a profound effect on their mental health.”

NDP Leader Kate White said it’s everyone’s responsibility to stem discrimination faced by queer students.

“What we’re finding right now is that the SOGI policy isn’t being enacted and that (the discrimination is) systemic,” she told reporters following question period on Nov. 7. “It’s across all Yukon schools.”

Jeanie Dendys, acting minister of education, said some of these concerns have been captured in a survey intended to better include LGBTQ2S+ people in legislation, policies and services, among other things.

“We have taken it as a high, high priority,” she told reporters. “Young people in our schools are facing discrimination and LGBTQ2S+ people are facing that across this territory and, really, Canada-wide, so we know this is an area we need to focus on, which is what we’ve been doing.”

Asked by reporters whether the Liberal government would commit to updating the SOGI policy in order to protect queer students, Dendys said, “We will work closely with them. I believe there will be changes. It’s a very high priority for our government.”

Dendys, as minister responsible for the Women’s Directorate, committed to meeting with the group directly about concerns raised in the letter alongside her colleagues in health and social services and education.

“I’m so happy that they’re bringing their voice(s) forward,” she said. “We support the efforts of our young people.

“I think every student in our schools should be safe … and we will make every effort to address the concerns that they have.”

Contact Julien Gignac at julien.gignac@yukon-news.com

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