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A matter of pride for VSB trustee

Parks commissioner Sarah Blyth (left in red), Mayor Gregor Robertson, City Councillor Andrea Reimer, and School Board Trustee, Mike Lombardi pictured in a float at Sunday's Gay Pride Parade. (Photo provided by Mike Lombardi)

As a school trustee on the Vancouver School Board I was proud to be associated with the PRIDE 2010 themes of Celebrate, Liberate, and Educate. The VSB entry, a decorated old school bus, in the PRIDE parade focused on the ‘Educate and Liberate’ component of PRIDE celebrations.

 Five Vancouver school trustees including Patti Bacchus, Jane Bouey, Al Blakey,  Allan Wong, and me were joined in the parade by Superintendent of Schools Steve Cardwell, Associate Superintendent Lynn Green and more than 100 students, teachers, parents, and administrators.

The 2010 Pride Parade and Festival, provided an opportunity for the VSB to demonstrate its ongoing leadership in addressing issues affecting Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Questioning (LGBTQ) students in schools. The VSB is committed to creating safe, inclusive, learning environments that celebrate diversity.

In press release prior to the parade, VSB chairperson Patti Bacchus said, “We recognize and are acting on our responsibility to be proactive in addressing homophobia and all forms of intolerance, discrimination, and harassment that can make students feel unsafe or unwelcome in schools.”

 The VSB Pride Advisory Committee, established in 2003 with representation from VSB staff, trustees, parents and various community groups, meets regularly to advise the Board. In 2004 the VSB adopted comprehensive LGBTQ policy that commits the district to providing a safe and positive learning environment for all students and employees. For the last six years, a part-time district Consultant for Anti-homophobia and Diversity has provided direct support to schools, and liaised with the network of Safe Contacts in the schools.

Within each elementary school’s library collection of diversity resources are children's books that portray families with same sex parents. Likewise, secondary school library collections include LGBTQ resources. Thousands of Vancouver students participate annually in “Pink Day” events focused on reducing bullying, and in particular homophobic bullying and celebrating inclusion.

Through a very popular “Lunch and Learn” school-based series of workshops, the Anti-homophobia and Diversity Consultant raises awareness, shares strategies for creating inclusive environments, and ensures that staff are better able to address issues around sexual orientation and gender identity. In addition, staff throughout the school district, such as Settlement Workers in Schools and Counsellors, participate in similar professional development activities.

All secondary schools have student clubs, (often called Gay-Straight Alliances - GSA’s) through which students take positive action for creating inclusive environments and supporting each other. This year many secondary schools hosted plays, films, and assemblies to promote awareness and acceptance. Schools sent student and staff representatives to join those from other Lower Mainland school districts at the “Dare to Stand Out Conference” hosted by Vancouver in March 2010.

Outreach includes presentations to UBC student teachers through their mandatory Developmental Psychology course. In addition, the Consultant speaks at community events such as a recent symposium hosted by Children’s Hospital on transgendered youth. The Consultant also provides support to transitioning youth and their families, and provides information for school staff on the topic of transgendered youth.

The VSB was also pleased to be represented on the City of Vancouver float. The Power to the  People and Free to be Me themes were celebrated by Mayor Gregor Robertson. Councillors Andrea Reimer, Heather Deal, George Chow, Gieoff Meggs, David Cadman, Ellen Woodsworth and Park Commissioners Aaaron Jasper and Constance Barnes.

 I am proud to be an elected official in a city that is proud of its efforts to Celebrate, Liberate, and Educate its diversity.

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