Homophobia and transphobia in P.E.I. schools a 'serious and systemic' issue, youth advocate says

·2 min read
P.E.I.'s child and youth advocate, Marvin Bernstein, says discrimination complaint processes for students should be transparent and inclusive. (P.E.I. Legislative Assembly - image credit)
P.E.I.'s child and youth advocate, Marvin Bernstein, says discrimination complaint processes for students should be transparent and inclusive. (P.E.I. Legislative Assembly - image credit)

Prince Edward Island's child and youth advocate, Marvin Bernstein, says there is a "serious and systemic issue" with homophobia and transphobia in Island schools.

Bernstein spoke to a committee of MLAs Tuesday afternoon. He shared some of what he's heard from students and parents about the discrimination children face at school.

"What we're hearing from some of the young people is that some of the teachers have just given up, that there is a culture of complacency and we've heard that some of these incidents have been occurring for years," Bernstein said.

In his presentation, Bernstein said some parents have shared stories with him of children who no longer sleep in their own beds because they are so anxious about having to go to school.

Others told him their "happy, joyful, sweet child is now suicidal."

Bernstein told MLAs that students need to be able to voice their concerns — and know those concerns are going to be taken seriously.

Waiting on East Wiltshire report

Bernstein also addressed an ongoing investigation at East Wiltshire school in June, after reports of bullying during a Pride Festival.

He said he met with the Department of Education, but when he informed officials there could be some form of public reporting about what was being said, legal counsel shut down the meeting.

Bernstein said his office has not been given any substantial information about the investigation since that day.

Jane Robertson/CBC
Jane Robertson/CBC

"We're just waiting to receive the report, like everybody else, to understand what the findings, what the recommendations were," Bernstein said.

"We don't really find ourselves in a position where we can provide input or influence the direction of that particular examination."

'This isn't acceptable'

The incidents of discrimination are "very serious," he said.

"We really appreciate the courage and the confidence that young people are expressing in our office in terms of coming forward and raising those concerns."

There's a collective responsibility in all of us to see these changes happen. — Marvin Bernstein, child and youth advocate

Bernstein said the province needs to make sure parents know who to speak to when their child is experiencing discrimination and complaint processes should be transparent and inclusive, he said.

It's important to recognize the educators who have supported children facing discrimination, Bernstein said, particularly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We need to kind of be balanced and recognize those positive contributions. But at the same time, we can't sugar-coat some of these negative experiences that are being undergone by children and youth within this province," he said.

"We need to find a way to keep them safe in learning environments. This isn't acceptable, and there's a collective responsibility in all of us to see these changes happen."

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