Wed | Sep 20, 2017

Editorial: Homophobic guidance counsellors are child abusers

Published:Tuesday | January 12, 2016 | 1:00 AM

When Ronald Thwaites, Jamaica's education minister, announced the dissemination of a security manual aimed at deterring the bullying of gay schoolchildren, he might not have realised that guidance counsellors were among the main culprits.

It is appalling that radicalised faith-based guidance counsellors in Jamaica's public schools are refusing to help gay and lesbian students who may be struggling with their sexual orientation and the mistreatment and social slight that are not unfamiliar to sexual minorities. Instead of performing their core duties, some have turned their sensitive posts into soapboxes from which promote denominational interests and proselytise.

Though Nina Dixon, president of the Jamaica Association of Guidance Counsellors in Education, did not quantify the scope of the problem, we assume that she raised the issue of discrimination because it is sufficiently widespread and culturally entrenched to cause emotional harm to marginalised communities.

This is particularly galling because guidance counsellors are, presumably, the mediators best equipped with the techniques and emotional intelligence to interface with gay students. However, they have allowed themselves to become disciples of zealotry that make them indistinguishable from the mob that promotes insularity and hatred.

What this points to is the fact that guidance counsellors have allowed their professional responsibilities to be trumped by their religious sensibilities in a clear betrayal of their duty and a shameless pandering to the lowest common denominator. Schools - even public ones which are operated by churches in conjunction with the Government - ought not to be the headquarters of homophobia.

That some counsellors have victimised children proves that some of these therapists are incapable of performing the fundamentals of their job, and their continued presence poses a danger to school communities and individual students. Though Jamaica's buggery laws remain a tribute to medievalism, even gay students have constitutional rights against discrimination.

Such scandalous conduct must not be excused as a right to personal views or freedom of religion. Guidance counsellors are employed by schools under the aegis of the Ministry of Education to be a sounding board for children suffering psychological trauma or exhibiting behavioural problems. They are expected to cultivate in boys and girls healthy self-esteem and respect for the community and display a high degree of trustworthiness.

Jamaica's teachers' colleges and other tertiary organisations that conduct guidance counselling programmes should view with alarm the prevalence of anti-gay stigma that has contaminated their ranks and remodel their curricula with a focus on empathy and professional propriety.

And the Child Development Agency, Office of the Children's Advocate and Office of the Public Defender should probe public schools to determine just how endemic anti-gay stigma is to the corps of guidance counsellors and consider whether any charges might be preferred against offenders. These counsellors are desperate for guidance themselves!