It's back to school at AlterHéros
One may be tempted to assume that being gay in 2002 is easier than it was twenty-five years ago. Without a doubt, people’s mentality has evolved. Yet, much prejudice still exists, discrimination is omnipresent, and the subject of homosexuality remains a taboo for many people, especially for students. Find out how AlterHéros and its partner, Programme Action-Santé, help alleviate the problem.
One may be tempted to assume that being gay in 2002 is easier than it was twenty-five years ago. Without a doubt, people’s mentality has evolved and measures have been adopted to make homosexuals feel more accepted in society. However, a large number of gay and lesbian youth are still struggling with the idea of identifying themselves as homosexuals. The generally poor public image towards this orientation still exists in our society. In addition, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth and those questioning their sexual orientation are generally under enormous pressure to comply with the heterosexual norm during their adolescence. Much prejudice still exists, discrimination is omnipresent, and the subject of homosexuality remains a taboo for many people from various cultures, backgrounds, and religions, especially in the school. Consider the courageous story of Marc Hall, an Ontario student who took his Catholic School Board to court and won the right to take his boyfriend with him to the Prom. And most recently in Australia, a former student at a Melbourne private school is suing over two years of what he calls constant torment by fellow students and staff because he is gay. Although homophobia is still present, despite laws against discrimination based on sexual orientation, a slow but real awareness has begun in our society to promote a more open-minded view towards homosexuality.
Yet, how can we go about improving the present situation for gays and lesbians, especially for the youth, and our future? First of all, the more we talk about it, the less taboo the subject becomes and the more attention the subject attains. A number of initiatives must be taken to stop prejudice and discrimination: the silence and the stereotypes must be broken; children must be educated using simple understandable terms; students must be allowed to ask questions of any type, in an adequate and safe environment; physical and emotional aggressions must be reduced, if not eliminated; parents must be reassured and their questions must be answered; useful and concrete information must be disseminated to the youth, parents, educators, and society in general.
Various sources of information exist that can provide useful information regarding homosexuality. Discussion groups, community groups, magazines, and associations are just a few examples of such organizations. Yet, accessing the information is not easy, especially for teenagers that are questioning or denying their homosexuality and/or prefer to remain anonymous. The Internet offers and serves as an excellent medium for information – it is anonymous and easy to access for most people.
To help alleviate the problem AlterHéros, an interactive resource-based web site targeted at les/bi/gay youth, their family and friends, and educators, offers the Teacher’s lounge – a section reserved for school personnel, such as teachers, principals, youth leaders, and anyone working in a school environment. Visitors can browse though numerous dossiers providing them with the tools and resources to approach and deal with the topic of homosexuality at school. The goal of this section is to increase awareness about the difficulties students go through at school such as harassment, homophobia, depression and suicidal notions. In addition, the goal is to help teachers and administrators create a safe environment so that students can feel comfortable to express themselves and their sexuality. Visitors can also ask questions or share their own experience if they desire.
Many articles in the French version of the « Teacher’s lounge » have been provided by our partner « Programme Action Santé (P.A.S.)» of the MTS-SIDA Montérégie organization. This program aims to promote health among the gay, lesbian, and bisexual community of the Montérégie region. One of P.A.S’s mandates is to demystify homosexuality in Montérégie’s high-schools. To achieve this, P.A.S. visits high-schools and offers a demystification workshop to classes. At first, the students are asked to name terms that they’ve heard to describe heterosexuals, homosexuals and bisexuals. For gays and lesbians, responses often contain words such as faggots, fudge-packer, butch, etc. And what terms do students usually use to describe heterosexuals? Only two words, straight and normal are usually evoked. « What do you realize when you consider all these words? » asks Lyne Massie, sexologist at P.A.S. « All the ones used to describe homosexuals or bisexuals are more pejorative and degrading than those to designate hetero people » responds a student. Around him, the other students are quiet and attentive.
Following this activity, two gay/lesbian/bisexual volunteers are asked to share a bit of their experience and life with the students in the class. According to me, our personal stories have a tremendous impact on the class. I am not much older then the students in this class, so the students can relate when I tell them my coming-out story, explains Marc-Olivier Ouellet, a student volunteer at P.A.S. Does talking about homosexuality seem to trouble any of the students? No. « Students are often uncomfortable towards the subject of homosexuality before the workshop. But after it, we can feel that we’ve made a difference and that many of the students have become more aware of the subject and more sensitive to it, adds Marc-Olivier, who’s not only a volunteer with Programme Action Santé but he is also the founder of AlterHéros.
The idea of creating the AlterHéros portal came to me a couple of years ago, but when I started doing these workshops with P.A.S., I realized at that point that there was still a lot to achieve to make our society more tolerant toward gays and lesbians, comments Marc-Olivier. Now, with AlterHéros in place, youth who participated in the demystification workshops can further deepen their knowledge, or ask questions they might have, especially if they were too afraid to ask any questions in front of their peers in the classroom. And for those who are not fortunate enough to be part of these workshops, they can always visit the site wherever they might be to better deal with situations in the classroom and those in general. We provide hundreds of articles in over fifty categories, hence there’s something for everyone on AlterHéros.
Since it’s official launch in August, the alterheros.com portal has already welcomed close to 10 000 visitors in one month. For this new school year, and with the help of its partners, such as Programme Action-Santé, AlterHéros aims to keep meeting its objectives to inform, educate, provide aid and support to visitors through its ever-evolving content, and to keep making a difference in the lives of those who visit the portal demystifying our differences.