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Guidance counsellors shun gay, lesbian students

Published:Sunday | January 10, 2016 | 12:00 AM
Minister of Education Ronald Thwaites
In this June 8, 2014, file photo, a group of Boy Scouts march during the Salt Lake City’s annual gay pride parade, in Salt Lake City, USA.

Newly-elected president of the Jamaica Association for Guidance Counsellors in Education (JAGCE), Nina Dixon, has raised concerns that several of the approximately 800 guidance counsellors that work in schools are refusing to offer counsel to students that identify as gay or lesbian.

"I have students who have come into my office and they have expressed how they feel about their sexual orientation or their feelings.We have counsellors who are of the Christian faith who will not touch it or look at those students at all," Dixon told The Gleaner.

While no official survey has been done to capture data on the number of students that identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ), Dixon believes that the numbers are growing. She said, too, that counsellors are not equipped to deal with these students.

The 2012 National Survey of Attitudes and Perception of Jamaicans Towards Same Sex Relationships found that 50 per cent of those surveyed became aware of homosexuality by age 14.

The study also shows a persistence of strong negative views towards homosexuality.

The JAGCE president is worried that the attitude of guidance counsellors towards gay and lesbian students is detrimental given that oftentimes, these students have no one else to turn to.

Statistics show that lesbians and gays are two to four times more likely than heterosexuals to seek counselling and are more likely to disclose their sexual orientation to school counsellors than they are to any other school staff member.

Research also shows, however, that 50 per cent of LGBTQ individuals do not receive successful counselling intervention becaus of counsellors' homophobic attitudes.

"We cannot run away from it and I don't plan to run away from it ... . It is a big issue and we are burying our heads. Homosexuality is an issue that, if we don't deal with it carefully, it can become a bigger issue where we have buggering in the schools ... and if we keep running away from it, it will just make the situation worst," she said.

While the Ministry of Education has no official policy document on LGBTQ issues in schools, it released a safety and security manual last year after concerns about bullying of gay and lesbian students surfaced.