AIDS P.E.I. is designing a program to teach adults in positions of authority how to be “sensitive and understanding” in dealing with gay and lesbian youth. Project co-ordinator Sue Rogerson says it is intended to change attitudes toward gay and lesbian youth, to “get beyond the point of just paying lip service to the idea.

“Gay and lesbian teens often feel isolated and that can lead to problems with depression,” she claims. “Changed attitudes will help remedy this.”

The program is aimed at government departments, especially justice, education, health and social services, as well as leaders of youth organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club and Canadian Cadets. Rogerson also heralded the “benefits” to the Human Rights Commission, saying, “They have ‘diversity education’ but not a program that is specific to gay and lesbian issues.”

On CBC in January 2001, Rogerson outlined plans to go into schools to talk directly to students. That didn’t happen because of what she describes as “hesitations, mostly from parents and other people who aren’t yet aware or familiar with gay and lesbian issues.”

She says the school boards and the Department of Education are afraid of backlash, and of “the attitudes that exist in the world.”

Blocked from the classroom this year, the group decided to focus first on re-educating professionals and the caregivers who are in contact with young people. “When they are more comfortable with the issues, we are going to be able to move into the classroom,” says Rogerson.

In November, Rogerson explained on CBC radio that last year a “needs assessment” carried out by AIDS P.E.I. revealed that the services currently provided to homosexual youth “are kind of like a bandaid. They are not solving the cause of their difficulties, the negative attitudes that exist.

“In the past few months, this education project has essentially exploded, with a considerable number of youths – upwards of 30 – actively involved on almost a daily basis via e-mail and internet contact.”

The program will be “a teaching module” (a lesson plan with suggested follow- up activities). Rogerson describes it as “experiential for participants, and designed to create a lot of empathy for gay and lesbian youth.”

Rogerson says, “We are also going to train trainers within each institution, so they themselves can be more sensitive.”

The program will be ready early in the new year and will be provided to institutions and organizations across the province, with the expectation that it will become a regular part of their professional development programs.