PHOTO: Students from Whitehorse's Porter Creek Secondary School gathered in March outside Yukon's legislative assembly to voice their support for a bill that requires some LGBTQ2S+ programming in all of the territory's schools. The bill passed in the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday. (CBC/Danielle d'Entremont)
The Yukon Legislative Assembly passed a bill Wednesday to amend the Education Act. The majority of MLAs — 15 in total — voted in favour. Only the Yukon Party’s Brad Cathers wasn’t present for the vote, despite taking part in debate beforehand.
According to the amendment, every year, school administrators are required to ensure there are initiatives in place that promote equality and nondiscrimination. Initiatives need to include activities relating to gender identity and expression, along with sexual orientation, as well as creating organizations — such as Gender Sexuality Alliances (GSAs) — that foster inclusion.
Gabriel Hopkins, a Grade 12 student at Porter Creek Secondary School — which has had a GSA of its own for some time — advocated with his peers for the change.
He told CBC News the move will ensure supportive environments for everyone, regardless of where they live in the territory.
“It makes them [school administrators] bound by law, so that they can’t deny kids the support that they rightfully deserve anymore,” Hopkins said.
“We will get to a point where people are more comfortable challenging the wrongdoings of the administration.”
NDP House Leader Emily Tredger, who tabled the bill, told CBC News the amendment will fast-track work to create more inclusive networks.
“Having activities or a [GSA] in your school can do a lot of things for students,” she said. “It can be just a safe place to go when things don’t feel safe elsewhere. It can be a place for connection. It can be a place to get support from teachers. It can be a group that does advocacy, which really transforms the whole school to make it safer for all queer and trans students in the school.”
Tredger said there was a dearth of support for LGBTQ2S+ members when she was in high school in the territory.
“I did have teachers who were very supportive and I felt really safe in their classrooms,” she said. “I had teachers who weren’t, and I knew I was not safe there and kind of stopped going to those classes.
“If I had a GSA, I think I could have done things like connect with my peers and maybe found some strength in numbers to challenge that.”
Tredger said students at every school have individual needs, meaning that a one-size-fits-all approach wouldn’t have worked. That’s why the wording of the amendment is intentionally broad, to ensure flexibility.
“I’m actually very excited to see what they come up with, because I think there’s going to be lots of really great ideas,” she said.
Premier Sandy Silver said the passage of the NDP’s bill is exceptional.
“I am trying to rack my brain to try to think if there has ever been an opposition bill that has ever passed the floor of the Legislative Assembly before,” he said. “I can’t think of one.
“It is very rare — unicorn rare.”
Education Minister Jeanie McLean said the amendment builds on the government’s LGBTQ2S+ action plan, which includes school policies that promote equality for students belonging to the community.
“I think embedding this into our system and our approaches will alleviate, I think, that sense of searching, maybe, that students are searching for those spaces, where they can truly be who they are and … be supported.”
With files from Dave White