AIMS FOR SCHOOL-LEVEL POLICY IN WAKE OF BOARD REFUSAL
KAMLOOPS - After months of discussion, the Kamloops-Thompson school board turned down a request to have a dedicated policy dealing with homophobic harassment, but one student is refusing to take no for an answer and is now pushing to get a policy put in place at the school level.
Nakota Oates, a Grade 11 student at South Kamloops Secondary School, began her crusade for gay rights last year as part of a school project. When she began the Grade 11 communications course this year, teacher Don Wilson was more than willing to support her in creating a petition.
“When I was starting my report for the (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) people that Mr. Wilson gave me, he told me what (the) school board had thought of it,” Oates says, “And it caught my attention, so I focused on (creating a petition).”
During the 2012-13 school year, Wilson approached the board on behalf of the Kamloops Thompson Teachers’ Association to ask for a discrete anti-homophobic policy to be put in place district-wide. At the time, he said the way administration dealt with at least one case was unacceptable, with staff placing the blame on the student for being ‘campy.'
After nearly a year of discussions and consultations with students (including a petition signed by more than 770 students in the district), teachers, administration, parents and staff, the district ultimately decided the bullying policy already in place covered the concern.
Oates doesn’t agree.
“I have a lot of gay and bisexual friends. They told me what it was like for them,” Oates says of her inspiration. “I have one friend and at his last school he got bullied, tormented and raped. I felt so bad, that’s why he moved here. Then friends started a rumour about him and he got scared. He changed schools again. He’s now afraid to tell people.”
CREATING A SAFE PLACE
Only two weeks into the petition she has collected nearly 300 signatures, but is hoping to reach 500 before she turns it over to the principal.
“If I were to bring that to the principal, that would be shocking,” she says, adding she may take it to the district again as well. “I think if they get enough hits out of it, they’ll actually be more than considering, they would actually do it.”
After completing her project, which looked at gay rights, suicide and acceptance, Oates realizes how many younger people also struggle with identifying as gay.
“I’ve read a lot of stories about 11-year-olds who are suicidal because they’re gay,” she says. “I want all LGBTQ to feel safe, so then they won’t feel suicidal.”
She hopes a school policy would help those younger kids entering high school to feel safer as well.
“Whenever I think about it I get really angry, because they feel afraid of everybody, afraid of being tormented,” she says. “If there’s going to be newcomers at least they know they can feel safe when they see a poster, or see it in the agenda and they’ll think ‘I’ll try to not be afraid of anybody because of this anti-homophobia policy’.”
Wilson says he is proud of Oates and her determination to see this project through.
“Nakota has pursued this project very independently, and I've been impressed and inspired by her fearlessness and resolve,” he says. “She's a very quiet, soft-spoken student and I'm a little surprised that she's so adamant about this project.”
Oates sees this as a beginning of activism for her, but is not ready to think too far ahead.
“To say I’ve created a goal and I’ve achieved it… yeah, it would be amazing. I sort of have a plan to see if I can go to an elementary school and do a presentation on this to intermediates,” she says. “But I just want to deal with this spectacular now.”
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— This story was updated at 5:53 p.m., Nov. 22 to correct a spelling error.