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BC Teen Suicide Aftermath:  Conflict Ensues Over Prevention
Education system stakeholders agree crisis at hand but on little else

THE second reported gay related suicide in North America in as many weeks has left officials in agreement that a crisis is at hand but disagreed on how to prevent the tragedies.

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Fourteen-year-old Hamed Nastoh of Surrey, British Columbia took his life on March 11th by jumping off the Pattullo Bridge into the Fraser River.  His suicide note said he could no longer tolerate being relentlessly picked on.

He had been called a 'geek' because he had good grades, 'four eyes' because he wore glasses and 'a fag' because he had a high voice and liked the company of girls.

He wasn't even gay, according to friends and family.

"He wasn't gay," the boy's friend Jessica Breton, 13, told the Vancouver Sun.  "He had a lot of girlfriends, just not a lot of guy friends.  For boys, it's gay; for girls, it's slut.  Gay is a term for people who are uncool."

She said the youth was called a faggot, a geek and uncool.  Those are standard put-downs, the girl explained, and don't have any deep meaning

The Surrey School Board is conducting an investigation into why its 'procedures' regarding troubled children and harassment didn't prevent the suicide.
"Even if they're not gay, they just say it.  It's something that pops into their head," she continued.  "If someone doesn't like you, they go with the majority of the crowd and say things."

People are saying a lot of things in the aftermath of the name calling and teasing of Hamed Nastoh which destroyed his will to live.

And it comes just two weeks after 32-year old Stuart Mathis killed himself with a gun on the steps of a Mormon church in California due to a chronic inability to reconcile being both gay and Mormon.

The Surrey School Board is conducting an investigation into why its 'procedures' regarding troubled children and harassment didn't prevent the suicide.  Teachers are supposed to report all incidents or suspected incidents immediately.  The investigation will uncover whether any reports had been made in the past.

Teachers and students at Enver Creek Secondary School are being questioned and the Board intends to develop a 'model' to prevent this from ever happening again.

The Teachers' Federation is debating a recommendation to actively support gay-straight alliance groups.
"It's a sad thing, but we have procedures in place for situations like these," Board VP Mary Polak told the Vancouver Province.  "Whenever there is an incident involving a student - fortunately it is rarely something as tragic as a suicide - our staff go thoroughly into the background of the student for clues."

But the British Columbia Teachers' Federation is going further and making their own changes.  At their Annual General Meeting in Vancouver today the teachers' association is debating a 'social justice' recommendation calling on the union to actively support gay-straight alliance groups in middle and high schools.

And that has some parents, another stakeholder group in the education system, protesting the meeting's facility entrance.

"The BCTF is being used by a special-interest group for political and social engineering," Erma Vietorisz, a teacher and spokeswoman for the Coalition for the Protection of Parental Rights, which is organizing the rally, was quoted as saying in the Globe and Mail.

In addition, the Surrey Teachers Association this week released a resource guide for elementary-school teachers called "Moving Beyond Silence:  Addressing Homophobia in Elementary Schools."

Some parents believe that these things should be 'taught' at home.
John Wyndham, the president of that local teachers group, told the Vancouver Province:  "It's common knowledge that the suicide rate for [homosexual] teens at the high-school level is fairly high.  I don't think anybody is disputing that.  There certainly is a need to address it, and that's what [the resource guide] is really all about, gaining acceptance for people, so that they're not harassed and not bullied and not made to feel unwelcome.

"It's probably the most common slur that's out there.  Lots of kids are being abused, and harassed and discriminated against based upon their sexual preference or people's imagined view of their sexual preference.  Schools are the proper place to teach tolerance.

"If it was being taught at home we wouldn't have as many teen suicides . . . [and] we wouldn't have so much hatred being directed at individuals."

But some parents believe that these things should indeed be 'taught' at home.

Rukhasana Sharif told the National Post that she is not opposed to homosexuality, and is deeply concerned about the bullying, teasing and taunting that goes on in schools, often with a person's sexual orientation at issue.  But she argued that sexuality itself is too personal a topic for teachers in which to express their values.  She said it's a subject families should be left to handle.

"We would support having tolerance clubs, to teach children to be tolerant to any minority," Ms. Sharif was quoted as saying.  "That would cover any discrimination ... that includes teasing or bullying ... of kids who are big, or fat, or dark skinned - or gay ... we would support that, rather than a club that promotes one thing - which we think could be unhealthy," she said.

And at the heart of the debate over methods of teaching tolerance in BC schools, whether through the development of gay-straight alliances or through written material or through parenting, is the memory of 14-year old Hamed.

May his death not have been in vain.