Today, August 12, is the UN International Youth Day. Egale Canada (Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere) has chosen this day to officially launch its safe schools petition campaign. “Schools should be safe for all children, regardless of personal characteristics like race, sex, religion, sexual orientation or gender identity,” says Laurie Arron, Egale’s Director of Advocacy.

“While it is generally agreed all children deserve protection, all too often lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-identified (LGBT) youth, as well as children of same-sex couples, are left out in the cold. That’s why provincial and territorial governments must take action to explicitly provide for their protection.”

The UN International Youth Day focuses on the World Program of Action for Youth, which in turn seeks to increase the “opportunities available to young people for full, effective and constructive participation in society.” Education and human rights are two of the key focus areas. Section 20 of the Program calls on governments to promote non-discrimination, tolerance and respect for diversity.

Egale has circulated petitions across the country in recent weeks, gathering several thousand names. “Egale’s petitions ask provincial and territorial ministers of education to take concrete action to provide a safe, caring and inclusive school environment for all students, staff, and families, including those who are or are perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans-identified, as well as children of LGBT people,” says Egale President Gemma Hickey. “Teaching acceptance and respect is always age-appropriate.”

Joan Beecroft, an Ontario teacher and co-chair of Egale’s Education Committee notes that schools are one of the best ways to reach youth, as well as adults. “This is why Egale is asking provincial ministers of education to be more pro-active in addressing discrimination and bullying at school. While there are encouraging steps being taken by some school boards, much more needs to be done and by a greater number of boards,” she says.

“Schools must no longer be breeding grounds for intolerance and hatred,” says James Chamberlain, a B.C. teacher and co-chair of Egale’s Education Committee. “Bullying of all types has a detrimental impact on learning and self-worth. Ministries of education must play an active role in ensuring safe learning environments for all students, free from harassment.”

Egale Canada advances equality and justice for lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-identified (LGBT) people, and their families, across Canada. Founded in 1986, Egale has over 4,000 members including people in every province and territory of Canada. Its work includes political action, legal interventions and public education and awareness. Egale Canada invites all Canadians to sign the petitions which will be sent to provincial and territorial ministers of education.