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Rising violence against LGBTQ2S+ youth has Montreal organizations worried

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Organizations in Montreal say they are concerned about a rise in violence against young people from the LGBTQ2S+ community.

To mark Pink Shirt Day on Wednesday, which raises awareness about bullying in schools, community organization Interligne is inviting the public to wear a pink shirt in support of LGBTQ2S+ youth.

The initiative, celebrated across Canada, began in 2007 when two young people, David Shepherd and Travis Price, asked their classmates to wear pink shirts to school in support of a friend who had been the target of homophobic comments because he had worn pink.

Interligne is taking part in this day for the fourth year running.

This year's event is different from previous ones in that it is being held under the theme of gentleness in response to the "hateful, anti-LGBT discourse that is gaining ground in the public arena," according to Pascal Vaillancourt, director of Interligne.

"The logo on the shirt is a teddy bear offering tenderness. We went with an aspect of gentleness because that's what young people experiencing bullying need. They need to be taken care of," said Vaillancourt.

Intolerance in schools

Interligne, an organization that travels around the province's schools offering training to young people and teaching staff, says it is concerned about "LGBTQ2S+ hate speech that's a little more present than it's been in recent years."

"We're noticing it, we've seen it, and we've also observed it through the media over the past year," he maintained, citing an incident in May 2023 when teenagers tore down and trampled a Pride flag at a high school in Vaudreuil-Soulange.

Marie Houzeau, director of the Groupe de recherche et d'intervention sociale de Montréal (GRIS), agrees with Vaillancourt.

Her organization's volunteers, who run LGBTQ2S+ awareness workshops in schools, say they have noticed an increase in "prejudiced or aggressive" questions from students.

GRIS documents young people's comfort level with sexual diversity and gender plurality through questionnaires.

"We note that the comfort level is down in previous years. Young people are also leaving downright violent comments on the forms," said Houzeau.

A long way to go

A study by the Institut de la statistique du Québec of 21,000 people in 2022 shows that LGBTQ2S+ young people are more likely to be victims of bullying than the rest of their peers.

The survey reveals that 28 per cent of lesbian, gay and bisexual people and 34 per cent of transgender and non-binary people experienced bullying in the 12 months before the survey, compared with 10 per cent for heterosexual respondents and 11 per cent for cisgender respondents.

In 2020, a SAVIE project survey reported that 43 per cent of young people felt that their school environment was still hostile to LGBTQ2S+ issues.

For Vaillancourt and Houzeau, those figures are a reminder of the importance of highlighting Pink Shirt Day.

"It's a great time to shine a spotlight on the phenomenon of bullying, which unfortunately is still very much present in our schools," said Houzeau, who notes that schools have made some progress in recent years.

For his part, Vaillancourt says he has observed an openness on the part of principals to learn about LGBTQ2S+ realities and make school environments more inclusive for students.

He stresses the importance of training teaching staff to respond to cases of bullying and to protect the mental health of young people from diverse backgrounds.

-- This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on Feb. 28, 2024. 

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