AMHERST – There have been improvements in addressing homophobia, but “we have a long way to go,” according to a local activist.
Debbie Currie, former chair of the Northern AIDS Connection Society and an ‘out’ gay woman for more than four decades, spoke with this newspaper May 17, International Anti-Homophobic Day, about steps we can take to improve respect for sexual diversity in our community.
The most important audience for her message of tolerance may not hear about it here, though.
“Most kids don’t read the Amherst Daily News,” she said.
In Currie’s view, outreach to the youngest generations is the key to improving the status of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans Nova Scotians. She agreed that the last few years have seen an acceleration in understanding of homosexuality, but said government and school boards have not lived up to a commitment she said they made five years ago to introduce information on alternate sexuality into school curriculums.
“The name calling exists,” she said, in our schools.
And not just name calling, but bullying.
“I’ve heard horror stories…,” said Currie.
The activist would like to see sexual diversity addressed in Grade Six, before kids head off to junior high. She wants school boards to take the lead implementing programming.
“It needs to be taught,” said the activist.
When asked how she would respond to objections from parents who might think ‘normalizing’ homosexuality clashes with their values, she said they need to come to terms with the reality of the world we live in.
“Get with the program,” she said.
In the case of immigrant communities, for example, cultural mores vary around the world. Some countries have “very harsh penalties” for homosexual activity. But people moving to Canada need to be accepting of Canadian cultural values, she said.
“We need to educate the parents first,” she said.
She expressed concern intolerant parents can pass along their views to kids. Her prescription: teach the parents, then teach the kids.
Some schools in our region have accepted the founding of gay-straight student alliances.
“Amherst is always open to everything,” she said.
She praised the efforts of the school nurse at ARHS, Michelle Richard. Springhill’s high school also garnered praise, especially the efforts of health counselor Jay Miller.
The culture has become more accepting – decades ago homosexuality was classified as a mental illness – but school curriculums can’t take the credit, according to Currie. Gay or straight, what people choose to do in the privacy of their bedrooms is their own business, she said: tolerance of sexual diversity should be taught in classrooms.