In the past month, the suicide of five young American teenagers raised the debate on how a society that advocates zero tolerance on violence in school can allow bullying to occur because of a student’s sexual orientation.
“Gender norms are so entrenched in our school system,” Joey Donnelly, a Queer Concordia member said, “If I had a teacher who was openly gay, it would have made a huge difference in my life.”
So who is to blame? The teachers? The students? One Concordia professor contends part of the blame actually falls on the nurses.
Deborah Dysart-Gale, chair of the general studies unit in the faculty of engineering and computer science at Concordia, said that in the case of these five teenagers, the healthcare workers in these communities let the schools down. She said nurses have a professional commitment to advocate social justice and intervention for all groups of people.
“Nurses can advocate for these things because they bring credibility and they know about mental health and community health,” Dysart-Gale said.
In the case of the American teenagers the administration did not know how to handle the situation, she said. That is where the school nurses can come in and provide the schools with expertise along with a staff member who is available to the students. She added that nurses cannot only advocate against bullying but can educate adults in the school to help them deal with these types of situation.
Schools need to have nurses who downplay gender roles, Dysart-Gale continued, explaining that the first person a patient sees in a clinic is a nurse. One of the first questions a nurse will ask is if they are sexually active or if they have a girlfriend or boyfriend; a question she believes immediately labels a person into a group and forms a barrier with the patient.
By simply changing the wording to “Do you have a partner?” Dysart-Gale contends it would take away the need to lump everyone together as heterosexual and create an open environment for the patient.
Donnelly also said that schools need to have more sexual education, and argued for more speakers and literature that showcase the queer culture. “We need to see more queer role models that are happy,” Donnelly said. He pointed out that this would help teenagers who are struggling with their sexuality to understand that there are other people in a similar situation. By staying silent in schools, he believes we are not helping people who feel abandoned by their community or live in toxic environments.
Donnelly added that there ought to be zero-tolerance policy in schools. Even if a student says: “that is so gay,” people need to question that and stop it.
“We need to go there as a society,” he said, “because it causes so much pain to a lot of people.”