- Published on Tuesday, 01 May 2012 19:06
- Written by HANNAH CAWSEY
Student says she encountered difficulties in trying to make private school queer-friendly
Calgary private school Rundle College has begun to recognize queer students within the school after denying a 16-year-old student the right to start a Pride Club this academic year. But other students maintain that the denial is simply part of a pattern of policies hindering support for queer students.
Inara Dattadeen, a Grade 10 student at Rundle, wanted to start up the school's first LGBT club for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students in the fall, only to be told by administration staff such a club would ruin the school's reputation.
"The homophobic and transphobic atmosphere created by many students needs to decrease and/or stop completely," Dattadeen said of her reason for wanting to start the club.
"By increasing the amount of awareness and information about the LGBT community, I believe that the school will become more educated and hopefully will become more queer-positive."
However, Rundle College princpal Wayne Schneider insists that there are support structures in place for queer students and that there wasn't a need for a separate club.
He also denied that anyone within the school's administration had said anything about a Pride Club being detrimental to the school's reputation.
"No one said that or even intimated that. That was never part of a conversation," Schneider said.
"We have a large peer support group in the school. We felt that the umbrella of (sexual orientation) came under an already existing club."
Despite turning down the pride club, Schneider says that the school is "very supportive" of diversity, be it queer-related or otherwise.
However, Dattadeen said a LGBT club at Rundle would help her and other students to feel safe, but she said she has made some progress at Rundle College since her pride club was turned down last fall, arranging for Calgary Outlink, a health and support group for Calgary's queer community, to do a presentation at the school.
Administration also allowed "a day of silence" to commemorate LGBT issues this year at the school.
"Their change in attitude this year has created a more positive outlook on this situation and I feel better now that there has been more effective communication and activity between myself, the school counsellor, and the admin," Dattadeen said.
"I don't expect Rundle to change overnight, but over time I hope to educate the school on diversity (specifically sexual diversity) to create a safe space for every student."
Schneider, when asked if Rundle College is a safe place for queer students, said that "we have a very safe and secure building" and added that the building is "psychologically safe."
He also said that he's "not naive to the fact that gays and lesbians" are confronted with issues in society and that it is a much bigger issue than Rundle College, but does feel the school has a responsibility in handling issues, particularly in cases of bullying.
Dattadeen is not the only student who says she has been discriminated against at Rundle College because of her sexual orientation.
Diamond Simpson, formerly known as Gordon Simpson, left Rundle in 2011 after being told the school wouldn't recognize her transition from male to female.
She said she was not allowed to wear the school's female uniform, and the school refused to go through her records and change her name and gender.
"The best way to describe why I left Rundle would be because they wouldn't allow me to be me," Simpson said.
Simpson has since transferred to Central Memorial High School, where she said administrators are more supportive, allowing her to register under her preferred name, wear what she wants and is recognized as being female.
While Schneider said that he is forbidden from talking about students specifically, he denied that requests like Simpson's had ever come his way.
University of Victoria student Sean Sutherland, who graduated from Rundle in 2011 said he is more relaxed in his new school environment after attending a school where he felt he had no support after announcing he was gay.
"The school let me down when it came to supporting my sexuality," Sutherland said. "The topic was never once brought up in any school-related occasions and often felt like it didn't realistically exist in the environment.
"Even when it comes to topics such as bullying, the school refused to acknowledge that it was a major problem for LGBT students. It was a very heterocentric environment that was borderline homophobic."
Sutherland said the majority of his classmates treated him as a "pariah."
"When I first came out I was very alone so when I got bullied I dealt with it by following some self-destructive behaviours. But as time went on I made some trustworthy friends that I could lean on when I got bullied.
"Only on one occasion did a teacher stop an individual from calling me or someone else a 'fag.'"
Sutherland said his biggest regret was that, unlike Dattadeen, he did not try to start an LGBT club before he graduated.
Disclosure: Calgary Journal editor-in-chief Trevor Presiloski also contributed to this piece. Calgary Journal reporter Hannah Cawsey is a former student of Rundle College.
Also, if this school is so homophobic, why would they allow and support the Day of Silence for the past three, (or was it four?) years? That seems to be the opposite of homophobic to me.
This article also fails to acknowledge the teachers that DID help the students mentioned. I'm sure if they read this article they'd be a little insulted after the advice and support offered to some of the above students seems to be so quickly forgotten. And by publishing this article are you not also drawing attention to those same teachers being homophobic?
I know students can be mean, but to deem the whole institution homophobic is insulting.
Congratulations Hannah on a great article. :)
I am a former student and i totally agree with what you say about administration covering up things. They are also very good at twisting the truth. This is another incident that Rundle is covering up and it is very typical.
The Peer Support group currently organizes a number of explicitly anti-homophobia initiatives, all of which have the full support of the administration and the majority of the student body. The presence of school-wide day’s of silence, fundraisers, and “purple days” - all for the sake of combating bullying in all its forms, and frequently, to explicitly combat homophobia - makes one wonder how one can call the institution homophobic. The very fact that Calgary Outlink is doing a presentation on this issue, presumably welcomed by the administration, undermines the idea that Rundle is concerned that something like that would detrimentally affect its reputation. Ms. Cawsey willfully fails...
She even quotes Dattadeen saying that the administration’s “change in attitude this year has created a more positive outlook on this situation and I feel better now that there has been more effective communication and activity between myself, the school counsellor, and the admin”. Does this - along with the activities of Peer Support - not belie the suggestion that the school and the admin are homophobic? Just because an institution doesn't trumpet coming-out options doesn't make it "borderline homophobic". Support exists in the form of peer support, counsellors, and approachable teachers, all of which, in my personal experience, are deeply supportive. Indeed, a measure of confidentiality might be appreciated by people looking to come out. It is a monumental decision, and I would wager that a number of people would want to be subtle about it.