Needs of LGBTQ students came into 'sharp focus' in 2021, says PEERS Alliance

·3 min read
Needs of LGBTQ students came into 'sharp focus' in 2021, says PEERS Alliance

The executive director of PEERS Alliance said working directly with 2SLGBTQ+ students in the classroom made "a really big difference" in 2021.

Josie Baker said as the need for support for students became more obvious, PEERS Alliance was able to start working within P.E.I.'s schools.

"That collaboration is something that makes a really big difference to students, makes a big difference to teachers," said Baker.

"The need for support for 2SLGBTQ+ inclusion in schools has really come into sharp focus in the province."

Steve Bruce/CBC
Steve Bruce/CBC

2SLGBTQ+ stands for two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer.

PEERS currently has two of its seven staff members working in P.E.I. schools on inclusion projects.

"That is a huge thing for the organization and a huge thing for the community across the Island," said Baker.

Last June, after reports of homophobic incidents at East Wiltshire Intermediate School in Cornwall, more than 100 people demonstrated outside the school in support of the 2SLGBTQ+ community.

There has been a struggle to really have a voice with the public sector … this year, there has been a bit of a turning point. — Josie Baker, PEERS Alliance

A diversity and inclusion consultant hired by the Public Schools Branch conducted an investigation and wrote a report about the events, which was released in August.

PEERS Alliance later provided recommendations to P.E.I. MLAs on how to improve Island schools for 2SLGBTQ+ youth.

Those included naming homophobic bullying in school policies and training visible diversity champions for each school.

PEERS Alliance, formerly known as AIDS P.E.I., has a broad mandate which includes working with people living with HIV, doing harm-reduction work, working with people who are street-aligned, and doing public education around sexual health.

'Increased mental health issues'

Baker said 2021 was "a challenging year for almost everyone on P.E.I."

"People have had increased mental health issues. People have had increased issues struggling with poverty, and certainly in P.E.I., housing continues to be a crisis," she said.

The group moved into a larger space in downtown Charlottetown this year, which made it easier to grow as an organization.

"One of the things that the global pandemic has done in Canada and certainly in P.E.I. is highlight the importance of the community sector," said Baker.

She called that "a double-edged sword" because although it means they have been able to support a lot more people, Baker said, it has also been hard on the mental health of people working in the non-profit sector.

2021 'a turning point'

Baker said over the course of the organization's 30-year history, government has not always listened to their concerns.

"There has been a struggle to really have a voice with the public sector and feel like the public sector is listening to the need for these public health interventions," she said.

"This year, there has been a bit of a turning point in terms of the valuing of these community voices and the valuing of the voice of PEERS Alliance."

The organization plans to do more work with people struggling with homelessness in 2022, as well as adding support programs for the transgender community, including a teen and tween portion of its Roots and Shoots program and an adult trans support group.

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