Retirement puts gay advocacy in Chilliwack schools at risk

School counselor at Sardis secondary is concerned his retirement will be the end of gay advocacy in Chilliwack schools.

Vic Gladish is concerned his retirement will be the end of LGBTQ advocacy in Chilliwack schools.

For 10 years, the Sardis secondary school counselor has been advocating on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered staff and students, as well as for those questioning their sexual orientation. He’s provided schools with countless resources, has lobbied the school district into revising its safe schools policy to protect its LGBTQ community, and has been the go-to person for questions surrounding same-sex students holding hands, or transgendered students in a school, or those wanting to start a gay-straight alliance club at their schools.

“When people have questions, they call me,” he said. I don’t know what’s going to happen when I’m not here anymore. Who’s going to keep this going?”

This Friday is Gladish’s last day before retirement.

The cause hasn’t always been easy.

Pride posters have been torn down; support has been negligible; and for eight years, Sardis’ GSA club, which started in 2001, had to be called the Diversity club, because the school was uncomfortable with “gay” in the name.

While the school district has made “baby steps” towards better supporting LGBTQ staff and students in the last couple years, it’s been a struggle getting that protection in place.

When Gladish and GSA members led the cause for the school district to create a specific policy to protect the LGBTQ school community at a 2009 board meeting, “you could hear a pin drop,” said Gladish. “Not one trustee spoke. Nobody asked questions. Nobody congratulated these students for their bravery.”

When it was suggested the school district form a LGBTQ advisory group that included staff, students and community members, Gladish was told by district staff “the board doesn’t need to be told how to do its job.”

In 2010, the school district’s safe schools policy was revised to include sexual orientation language. But unlike other school district’s, Chilliwack was “not willing to have a specific policy with lesbian, gay, and transgendered in capital letters,” said Gladish.

“By having a separate policy, it raises the level of conversation. It’s harder to just sweep it under the carpet.”

The revised policy did, however, state that schools will provide supports for students who are identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, or questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity.

“But if nobody speaks up or keeps pushing for it, it’s just going to gather dust like so many of the other policies in the district,” said Gladish.

He hopes the school district will form an advisory group, and make anti-homophobia mandatory professional development for staff just like it does for harassment and suicide prevention.

“There shouldn’t be any shame in standing up for these kids, for these people,” he said.

See related story: Gay students urge district to speed up in changing harassment policy

kbartel@theprogress.com

twitter.com/schoolscribe33

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