School clubs helping gay, straight students

Education: Foothills, Oilfields establish groups to discuss sexuality

By: Bruce Campbell

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Apr 16, 2014 06:00 am

Foothills Composite teacher Jody Swift with 50-50 club member Jessica Gore. The club was established four years ago to deal with students’ sexuality, bullying and other issues.
Foothills Composite teacher Jody Swift with 50-50 club member Jessica Gore. The club was established four years ago to deal with students’ sexuality, bullying and other issues.
Bruce Campbell/OWW

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Two foothills area schools won’t be struggling with a failed motion to give students the right to form clubs to discuss issues such as sexuality and bullying.

That’s because Foothills Composite High School and Oilfields High School already have such clubs up and running in their respective schools.

The Comp introduced the 50-50 club four years ago.

“I had a gay student who was openly supported by his family and he came to me because there was another gay student who was being bullied,” said Foothills teacher Jody Swift. “He told me ‘if you don’t tell an adult at this school I am going to.’ He told me there doesn’t seem to be a safe place for people who have different orientation to go someplace and just be themselves and feel safe.

“He came to me and said: ‘Would you be that teacher? I said of course.”

Calgary-Buffalo Liberal MLA Kent Hehr introduced a motion on April 7 which would allow students to form Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) clubs without having to get consent from principals and school boards. The motion was defeated 31-19.

Meanwhile the clubs at the two foothills schools keep moving on.

The 50-50 club holds once a week meetings where students – gay, bisexual, transgender and straight – can come and discuss issues.

“We are not an official GSA, however, we want to provide a space for kids – all kids – to feel safe,” Swift said.

The meetings usually open with Swift asking the students if there has been any bullying or mistreatment around their sexuality.

“When the club started there were stories every meeting,” Swift said. “Now it is rare, maybe once every two months… I think it is so important that students be allowed to show up authentically and be themselves.”

Jessica Gore is a Grade 12 student who is openly gay and a member of the 50-50 club. She agreed there has been a much more accepting attitude of students over the past three years at the Comp.

“I find this school a very accepting school,” Gore said. “There are teachers in this school who will back us to the end.”

Swift stressed the 50-50 club isn’t a club which openly publicizes its meetings. There are no announcements over the public address system about upcoming meetings, for example.

“We are not loud and proud — we keep a low profile,” Swift said. “We want the protection of students to be at the utmost… It’s a place where students can come who face the same challenges in life.”

Oilfields High School guidance counsellor Paulette Morck said a similar club was started in October after she had received advice from Swift.

“It’s a judgment-free place where students can go for lunch,” Morck said. “We talk about situations that the kids have dealt with in the school, we talk about the good stuff and we talk about the not-so-good stuff.

“Yes we do have students identifying themselves as gay and others who are allies.”

Morck was approached by students to start the club.

“The kids were the ones who drove this, but I was concerned the kids would be ostracized,” Morck said. “It’s a place where kids can be themselves.”

She said there has been a positive change for acceptance in regards to students’ sexuality over her 12-year career at Oilfields

Morck said students had a positive, accepting attitude when a gay Calgary policeman spoke to students at the Grade 7 to Grade 12 school.

“At the very end of the speech, he said: ‘Oh, by the way, I’m gay and if that changes your mind about who I am you have take a long hard look in the mirror,’” she said. “I have so many students come up to me and thank me for having him here.”

Christ the Redeemer School Division is in the process of revising its safe and caring schools policy, said superintendent of schools Scott Morrison.

“It will comply with what we expect to be in the new education act, and be congruent with our church’s teaching, which emphasizes the unique worth and goodness of every child,” Morrison said. “Our policy will also focus on ensuring that all students are educated in a safe and caring environment, and will specifically address how to identify, prevent, and respond to any form of bullying for any reason.”

Highwood MLA Danielle Smith, the Wildrose Party leader, did not vote on Hehr’s motion. However, all nine Wildrose members who participated voted against. Smith said it was not a vote against gay-straight alliance clubs.

“We’re supportive of gay-straight alliances where the school boards, parents and students have established them,” she said. “Is this something the government should be establishing through legislation or are the school boards doing a good job of accommodating them?”

She said the fact there are 40 such clubs in Alberta schools is an indication the issue is being appropriately addressed at the local level.

Gore doesn’t quite understand why the Wildrose and 22 PC MLAs would vote against the motion.

“Why say no to something that is only going to result in open communication?” Gore said. “I’m not surprised (it didn’t pass) there are a lot of people who do see wrong in having a GSA or the idea that there is a club where gay and straight people can talk.”


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