ISSUE 26 MARCH 2001 BACK TO CYC-Net

practice

I knew this kid once ...

Paul Moore, Youth Advocate, Parent Counsellor Program, Children's Aid society of Cape Breton - Victoria

I knew this kid once. We all know this kid. He’s been in every one of our residential centres; She’s been in every one of our programs; He’s been in every one of our foster homes. It’s about her that we say, “I’m not surprised!” It’s about him we say, “I’ve know it all along”. It’s about this kid who eventually finds their voice and courage to “own up” to what we thought we knew; to come out; to say “I’m gay” (or lesbian, or bi-sexual or transgendered). There ... I’ve said it “its not a curse or a bad word. But we treat it as such. We may not always realize it, but we give the message that it is bad to be gay / lesbian / bisexual / transgendered (GLBT). We give this message through ourselves, our programs and our social values.

Let’s think about how we talk to our kids in care. We stereotype them according to their gender. Boy’s will be boys; “Rough housing is OK”. Girls will be girls; “Lets have a craft night”. And we speak to them, in words and actions, accordingly.

How many times have I asked the same questions of the boys I worked with at the Centre? “Where do you go to school? How many in your family? What is your favorite food? Do you have a girlfriend?” How many of these kids have shut down or lied after this last question because they have to protect their identity and sometimes themselves from me “because I just asked an innocent, but telling question which reveals who I really am.

Statistics show that a high percentage of street kids are GLBT and a high number of street kids wind up in our Centre–s, programs and homes. We can assume, therefore, that a number of these kids are GLBT. And how do we talk to them? What does the atmosphere say to them? How do our actions speak to them? Like many, I had not thought about these questions until a youth I worked with came out. He was the one I looked back on and said “Yup, he’s gay”. But what did I do to make that process easier? Did I, in fact, make this process easier or harder? I think now of many things I could have done and said.

But it is not all in the past. We need to be more aware every day. I need to think about things like:

All youth receive messages from us. We are conditioned by society to act in a specific way “a normal way “the way that the majority of our peers act. The dangerous and unfortunate thing is that although, of course, most of us are in the majority, the majority is not always right and neither are our actions, meanings and language. We dispel the contribution to society of those who are different from us based on our premise that 'dominant is correct” “and usually that means white, male, heterosexual, able bodied, middle age, and middle class.

Imagine for a minute you are a heterosexual. And as you slept tonight, everything that you knew about relationships in your world changed. Imagine that when you woke up that you would be afraid to tell your co-worker whom you found attractive; whom you liked, loved and wanted to be with. Imagine that you were afraid to walk in public holding hands with this person. Imagine the difficulty in trying to find a Valentine card for this person. Imagine not being able to go to a dance ... and dance with this person. Imagine being afraid to kiss this person good bye at the airport as they left on a business trip. Imagine being the brunt of jokes and not being able to be safe enough to try to stop them. Imagine living in fear that if your “secret” gets out, then you are at risk of losing your job, your friends, your family. Imagine living in the fear that someone may physically want to hurt you because of “what” you are. Imagine that this was not a dream, or a phase, and that you had to (and wanted to) live with this realization for the rest of your life.

Now imagine what it must be like for many of the youth GLBT youth and staff with whom we work.

Instead of our society, our centers and ourselves rejecting this group of GLBT youth solely on their orientation, we should find ways to let them know that it is OK to be themselves.

We should work toward the reduction of homophobic and heterosexist attitudes in our workplaces and ourselves. We can do this by recognizing the language and practices that we deliver, and strive to make them more gender and bias free.

We should advocate for the same rights and privileges that are expected by us to be extended to them. We can do this by negotiating contracts that have inclusive language and clauses which include same sex pairings.

We should eliminate the “us” and “them” in our language and attitudes. This is not a hockey game where there are sides.

We should acknowledge the information which has been taught to us by family, school, church and state is not correct. We should strive to re-learn this information in a non-heterosexist, non-homophobic way.

Finally, we should teach these things to our residents and youth. The greatest learning comes from your peers. By following the rule of “do onto others ...” and applying it to all oppressed groups, as well as practicing it in our lives and our work, we can make our centres and society a better and safer place to live especially for this kid I knew once ...

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