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Jaevion Nelson: Counselling critical to educational outcomes

Published:Thursday | January 21, 2016 | 1:00 AMJaevion Nelson, Contributor

We have an uncanny knack for missing the point in this country. We have erroneously reduced the issue relating to guidance counsellors supporting students around sexuality and related matters to be about supporting them to accept or reject their non-heterosexual orientation. This is rather unfortunate. How do we expect to move forward if we continue allow our biases to do the thinking for us?

It is important that we accept that while some of our students will be lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT), the critical issue here, and what is being asked of these professionals, is not to provide counselling for students to be gay or lesbian. It's simply for them to do their jobs - provide an open, safe space for students to seek support when they need it.

Understandably, guidance counsellors have a daunting job particularly because of all the challenges in our homes and society at large and the fact that the school's role as an agent of socialisation is even greater. The minister of education, Ronald Thwaites, has outlined some ethics and standards (I will list them later) which all 806 Guidance Counsellors must respect. Last Friday, at a press conference, he recommended that focus be on improving educational outcomes of our student, which is his priority. I understand where the minister's position and agree, to an extent, about belabouring and sensationalising this issue. However, we must recognise that the provision of counselling and support around sexuality issues is of great import and the lack thereof negatively affect students in myriad ways. Their educational achievement is one.

We need to discuss the importance of providing safe spaces for students to discuss these matters rather than focusing them being LGBT. We must be mindful that heterosexual students will also have problems around sexuality issues.

 

ISSUE AMONG YOUNG PEOPLE

What of the effeminate or soft spoken heterosexual student who is being told at home he is gay and being abused by his classmates for being a 'fish'? What of the heterosexual 'tomboy' girl whose parents force her to be with an older man so she will hopefully never be lesbian? What of the students who might be friends with the soft-spoken boy or the tomboy and is shunned by his peers for befriending them? What of the boy or girl who knows he/she is being LGBT and is being pressured into having sex though he/she has no such interest? I won't even bother to go into the issue of intergenerational and transactional relationships which is a big issue among our young people. What about the fifth former who is still a virgin and being teased everyday that he must be gay? Should these students not be able to seek counselling on the issue of sexuality from their Guidance Counsellor?

Why then is it important for students facing sexuality related problems to get proper guidance and counselling? Typically, students who are or perceived to be LGBT experience bullying, violence, harassment, discrimination, and other forms of abuse which may result in depression, suicidal thoughts, truancy and poor academic performance, low self esteem, feelings of anger, isolation/social exclusion, anxiety about interactions with the public, self hate, rebellious behaviour and substance misuse (abuse). This is likely to exacerbate depending of the kind of support they receive or don't receive. These problems will undoubtedly have a severe impact on how well they do in school. I know quite a few persons who had this experience because of gender norms and their sexual orientation.

Let's commit ourselves to be professional and focus on what's important - supporting our children and youth to be their best selves and achieve their fullest potential regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. As the Minister of Education highlighted, guidance counsellors are expected to adhere to the following ethics and standards around confidentiality, 'respect for rights and dignity [...], including freedom from discrimination and the right to privacy and respect for self-determination,' and 'act[ing] in a responsible and reputable manner, and to avoid any harm to clients.'

Let's ensure our children, regardless of who they may love, will get the best guidance and support they need to achieve their dreams. They should never have to think Guidance Counsellors are the last resort whenever they need help or someone to talk to.

- Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.