Walton focuses on homophobic bullying

December 02, 2004, vol. 31, no. 7
By Carol Thorbes

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Gerald Walton is closely following a B.C. Human Rights Tribunal hearing that could make school boards more mindful of how they conduct public meetings.

A research grants facilitator in the faculty of education at Simon Fraser University, Walton is researching how schools deal with homophobic bullying for his doctorate in education at Queen's University. He sees a connection between what has led parents to accuse the Surrey school board of discriminatory behaviour and what makes homophobic bullying the most prevalent form of bullying in schools.

A gay man from a military family, Walton has first-hand knowledge, as well as a research understanding, of systemic views that perpetuate society's ostracism and denigration of non-heterosexuals. Walton uses the term to refer to sexual identities and relationships other than those involving the traditional concept of a man and a woman and opposite sex relations.

“They are rooted in social, cultural and political beliefs that tie heterosexuality to social and political power and that define manhood and what is a normal and acceptable sexual identity.” Walton adds: “Schoolyard life and educational policies dealing with issues such as bullying are a reflection of society's views.”

Educational policies, says Walton, do little to curb homophobic bullying in schoolyards because they are too generic and do not acknowledge the sexual identity issues often fueling homophobic bullying among teenagers. Zero-tolerance policies and safe school programs do little to protect teachers and administrators trying to eliminate homophobic bullying or penalize those who encourage it.

Without anti-bullying policies to protect diversity and in a predominantly heterosexual culture, Walton believes school boards find themselves in no-win situations, such as the one facing Surrey. Two parents, a lesbian couple, are before the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal alleging the school board failed to address discrimination when other parents peppered them with a barrage of homophobic comments at public meetings. The board held the meetings to obtain parents' views on the use of books designed for primary-aged children that depict same-sex parents.

“School boards are reluctant to limit freedom of expression, even if it is potentially injurious, for fear of angering parents,” says Walton. He notes, however, that school boards would not tolerate racist slurs at public meetings.

“Homophobic bullying needs to be discussed and addressed as a product of complex social, political and ideological conditioning before specific policies can be shaped to address it. Only then will school administrators and teachers feel more secure about taking action. Even heterosexual students, who are often the victims of homophobic bullying, will be better protected because of a better acknowledgement of diversity.”

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