Board officials have announced three new initiatives to make schools safer for all students that fall outside the heterosexual label.
“This is a pretty significant development. It’s historic. The TDSB as an entity has never taken this on system-wide, so it’s having huge ripple effects," says Michelle Cho, student equity program advisor for the TDSB. “We know that homophobia and transphobia have existed in our schools for a long time. It’s just being highlighted much more in the media now. There’s a real crisis that’s gone unnamed in our schools. This needs to be talked about.”
The Positive Space campaign will see middle school and secondary teachers trained by a positive space representative in order to become official points of contact for students suffering with issues stemming from homophobia or transphobia. According to Cho, the new initiatives are a first in Canada. There has never before been a system-wide promotion of gender-based violence prevention.
“[Students] will be able to contact this person in the school and look for support,” says Vladimir Vallecilla, a gender-based violence prevention work for the school board. “Obviously, that teacher wouldn’t have the expertise of a principal or social worker, but they will be trained to direct that information to the social worker or the administrator, and then to our office for greater school-wide support.”
But Positive Space isn't the only campaign being rolled out by the TDSB. They are also unveiling the Peer Support Network, an idea based around education that will see students in grades eight, nine and ten will be trained as peer educators through the TDSB.
“The idea is to teach students how to make creative media and facilitate workshops for other students on gender-based violence prevention,” says Vallecilla. “An example would be taking images from current media, Disney, pop culture, then discussing and breaking down how gender has been socialized into students.”
Lastly, the school board is starting a campaign that will recognize gay-straight alliances that are making a positive impact. There are currently twenty-five GSAs in Toronto, give or take a few, and the hope is that highlighting great ones will create interest in starting new alliances.
“It’s addressing gender-based violence. That means every teacher, support staff member, guidance counselor, teaching assistant, administrative staff member, principal or vice-principal must report any incident that can be viewed as unsafe to the school community, which now includes homophobia, transphobia, sexual harassment or sexual misconduct," says Michelle Cho. “At the end of the day, this isn’t just about policies. There are people being affected.”