LGBT mentorship

High school mentorship program in the works by Social Issues Commission

Chair of Education on Queer Issues Project Kate Pritchard (left) and Social Issues Commissioner Daniella Davila (right) are spearheading a high school mentorship program to raise awareness about discrimination againt LGBT communities.
Chair of Education on Queer Issues Project Kate Pritchard (left) and Social Issues Commissioner Daniella Davila (right) are spearheading a high school mentorship program to raise awareness about discrimination againt LGBT communities.

The Social Issues Commission (SIC) and Education on Queer Issues Project (EQuIP) are creating a mentorship program to provide students in high school with access to a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

On Sept. 22, 18-year-old Rutgers University student Tyler Clementi committed suicide. His roommate had streamed a video online of Clementi having sex with another male. The death sparked debate in North America about homophobic discrimination on college campuses.

On Oct. 6 Kate Pritchard, chair of EQuIP, stood in front of a group of around sixty people who had gathered to commemorate the loss of young lives attributed to homophobic bullying. Pritchard said candlelight vigils were held on the same day in Toronto and Montréal not only to remember, but to also raise awareness that this type of oppression exists.

“It is unacceptable whether it’s at schools, on campus, anywhere,” Pritchard, ArtSci ’12, said, adding that she hopes the vigil, while honouring those who had taken their own lives, also had the purpose of encouraging people to take action. “I want it to lead to planning, outreach and programs that should have been in place before,” she said.

The idea for the mentorship program was sparked last year, Pritchard said. Although still in its initial planning stages, the goal is to launch the project in November.

Pritchard said since she was hired as chair of EQuIP, she has had a vision of starting a program with high school students, adding that although recent events have had an impact, they have only given her more incentive to reach out to teenagers. Before the program gets going, volunteer mentors will receive anti-oppression and positive space training.

Pritchard said students of all sexual genders and identities can create change and are welcome to make a difference. “You don’t have to be queer to be involved in queer causes .... We are very aware that this is not just about queer rights, in every identity inter-sexualities exist,” she said. “We’d like to ensure that everyone who works on this is aware of that.”

Social Issues Commissioner Daniella Dávila said she wants to combat the systemic oppression that targets the LGTB community. Systemic oppression is discrimination that’s built into an institutional framework.

“Kate and I are very aware of the systemic oppression that can occur on campus and in Kingston and so we want to do advocacy work that deconstructs queer-phobia within our systems,” she said. “This is not just about us offering tools of social and personal support, but offering advocacy tools to students who will need to challenge systems of oppression if any change at an interpersonal level is ever going to happen.”

Dávila said advocacy tools would include providing information to students about ways to respond to LGTB discrimination.

“[Advocacy tools are] really just knowledge about the different ways in which students are marginalized, knowledge about who to go to when there’s a complaint,” she said. “If someone says a homophobic comment in class: who do you go to, what do you do next, what are the systems of support.”

Within high school outreach, Dávila said she would like to expand on the education of safe sex methods in high schools to include more than just heterosexual contraceptives.

“If sex education is really there to educate and inform for health reasons, then they wouldn’t exclude safe sex methods for non-heterosexual relationships.”

The initial starting point of the project will be contacting local high schools and starting a network with them by distributing pamphlets and approaching any active queer groups.

“We haven’t contacted high schools yet. We will contact if not all, most of the high schools in Kingston,” she said.

The next step of the program would be to plan socials and discussion groups to facilitate a positive way for LGTB students to freely express themselves. Dávila said recruitment of mentors will come from EQuIP members.

“This is something that’s come up in EQuIP. There have been members who have approached Kate.”

In terms of funding, Dávila said the program isn’t cost heavy.

“We’re really not planning to incur a lot of costs … food, drinks for socials. It will be very minimal. Time and effort is going to be a lot.”

With files from Clare Clancy

Resource available on campus for support include the Peer Support Centre at 613-533-6000 ext. 75100 and the Sexual Health Resource Centre at 613-533-2959.

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