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Activist Educator Urges Everyone to Take a Stand Against School Homophobia
by Carroll Holland,
Community Worker

David Gamble & Barbara McIlveen
Woodroffe High School Vice-Principal David Gamble with Barbara McIlveen outside the Ottawa-Carleton Regional Police Service building after providing training to School Resources Officers & Youth Officers on LGBT issues, September 1999.
WHEN David Gamble spoke to an audience of 60 in the training room of the Hull Police Service, March 20, 2000, he spoke with the passion of a gay man who has worked tirelessly, for years, to end the hypocrisy of homophobia in schools.

David, who is now vice-principal of Woodroffe High School, was a principle speaker at the 7th annual information exchange meeting of the Ottawa-Carleton Police Liaison Committee for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgendered Communities.  It was the first Liaison Committee meeting held in Hull.

The work to which David has contributed - as a member of the former Ottawa Board of Education Anti-Homophobia Action Committee and as a teacher at numerous local schools - has paid off: in the form of inclusion of sexual orientation in anti-harassment policies, in anti-homophobia workshops for school principals, in presentations by a police officer and a lesbian community worker at Woodroffe High School on hate crimes and, last year, in the presentation of the play, "The Other Side of the Closet" at four area schools.

Every step involved strong support from progressive OBE personnel, in particular Barbara McIlveen, Ann Jones, and Pamela Gemmell, as well as the Liaison Committee, the Hate Crimes Section, members of the community, and others.

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David's clear, March 2000, message was: take a stand, "Get rid of the victim status and it will change."  He also encouraged others to take advantage of teachable moments.  He gave a recent example involving a Woodroffe High School student sent to the office for the use of the word "faggot" in class.  David explained the origin of the word to the student - it goes back to when gay men were burned to death in the Middle Ages - and then instructed the student to return to his class and give the same lesson to his classmates.  He said it was a valuable learning experience for everyone.

David had a message for school districts that are not yet at a point where they can openly discuss homophobia:  approach it from the point of view of school safety.

The following is the English portion of his prepared text.

It gives me great pleasure to be invited to speak at a gathering of concerned citizens. We have here assembled an auspicious assembly of those who would make things better for all.

It has been my capacity as an educator for the last 33 years to try to prepare students for an increasingly difficult and challenging world.  However, the older I become, I realize that schools do not exist in a vacuum but are part and parcel of a larger social complex.  In its educational capacity, the school system plays its role in the betterment and refinement of civilization, both local and global.  Read the papers; there is so much to do.

It is obvious to see that the communities of our towns and cities are comprised of many and various smaller communities, differentiated by colour, race, ethnicity, national origins, class, abilities etc.  One of those communities which has emerged over the last 30 years, much to the chagrin of those who would have it otherwise, is the gay - lesbian - transgender community.

If anyone had told me ten years ago that I would be speaking openly at many different fora, as a gay high-school teacher and vice-principal, I would have said, simply, "Thou art mad."  However, here we are, at yet another 'social action' designed specifically for those of minority sexual orientations and gender identifications.  For that I rejoice.

What I do not rejoice for is the evidence that the members of that community are still subject to hate and discrimination.  I see it and hear it and feel it in many areas of our society.  Yes, unbelievable as it may seem, it is still allowed to go unaddressed in our schools.  Teachers have been known, and I know you will find this difficult, to ignore the term 'faggot' when hearing it in the hallways of our schools.

Teachers have said to me, "What do I do?  I don't know what I am supposed to do about it.  I don't know anything about the issue."  Tell me, do we allow our students to make negative and insulting references on the subject of race and gender?

In some cases, students have hidden isolated and alone, changed schools, felt the need to seek counselling, have been harassed and beaten, dropped out of school, run away from home, taken to drugs, done harm to themselves ... or just stayed quiet and inconspicuous waiting for the day to get out of school - which should be a nurturing and secure environment.

All of us, straight or gay, must bring ourselves to the state where we identify with the suffering of these people, every bit our young people as any other of the youth that we are morally obliged to serve in equal capacity.  But what right do we turn our backs on one group while embacing another?

To that end, I beg, or rather insist, as the adults in the piece, that we join forces to support the development of all youth in this rainbow diversity of ours.  We, as the overseers of the commonwealth, the protectors of social order, the nurturers and educators of youth, have a moral obligation to create a web of trust and support that is visible, active and unbreakable so that all our young may develop and become fully and personally actualised members of the society which we share.

Specifically to the educators here:  take a stand.  Bring in speakers to your schools, display signs that encourage respect, train your counsellors, sensitize your principals, make strong your position on homophobia as zero tolerance.

To the police: speak in the schools about all aspects of diversity and place homophobia on your agenda of bias crimes to inform students.  Be visible and vocal in regards to the law on hate crimes ... or all areas.  Appear in schools in uniform with members of the gay community.  Work with us, the educators ... we need your support ... and reciprocally, you need ours.

For the police who are associated with schools:  understand the demographic differences of each school.  Urban schools may be less problematic that rural ones ... downtown schools may be more progressive that the country schools. Why do gays tend to move to cities?  Let's just say ... it sucks to be queer in Shawville.

I, personally, would look forward to working with any one of you ... hopefully all of you at some future time.  I make myself available if I can at anytime to assist in our collective efforts.