High school teacher Suzanne Covich (pictured) has seen a lot of homophobia in her time and not just towards her students. Openly lesbian herself, Covich has experienced it first hand.

Being gay or lesbian in education is OK so long as you don’t talk about it and make people uncomfortable, she said.

But Covich did talk about it, and during her 11 years working as an English teacher in Western Australia she’s had kids taken out of her classroom without being told why they’ve been moved or where. And she’s had a great deal of trouble with homophobic parents and homophobic kids.

When one of her gay students was assaulted and had a knife held to his throat, the school refused to admit the incident was a gay bashing and removed all references to his sexuality from reports. Covich couldn’t sit back any longer. I’ve seen what happens to gay and lesbian kids at school and I’ve seen the way their stories are silenced. I refused to watch another kid get treated like that.

She travelled to America and visited schools in New York, Boston and San Francisco that are specifically addressing homophobia. Covich returned to Australia with a much greater knowledge of the issue and feeling fully affirmed, and began a mission to give kids a voice.

She asked her students to start writing personal accounts of how it feels to be different -“ not just gay or lesbian, but different in any sense. They described what it was like to be overweight, from a poor family, Aboriginal, red-haired, self-mutilating, bulimic and so on. The book A Circle In A Room Full Of Squares is a collection of these stories.

To Covich’s delight, the book is finding its way into schools around the country, creating a platform for teachers and students to discuss the issue of homophobia and discrimination of every kind. The first print run has sold out. She’s had orders from all over Australia and from as far away as China.

My first aim is to get the book into every school in WA, she says. I want to let kids know that they’re not alone.

It was published by the high school where Covich now works, John Curtin College of the Arts in Fremantle, WA. The principal is gay-friendly and incredibly supportive of Covich and the gay and lesbian students there. He speaks openly at school assemblies about the importance of creating a safe space for gay and lesbian students, Covich said. I don’t know of any other school in the country where that happens. John Curtin College has taken the lead in dealing with homophobia in schools.

Which is not only great for the kids, but also for her. I don’t come to school any more feeling like I have a lump of concrete on my heart, she says. Now I feel safe.

To obtain a copy of A Circle In A Room Full Of Squares, contact Suzanne Covich on [email protected], or call John Curtin College of the Arts in Fremantle on (08) 9433 7200.

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