Now who are we to believe on this matter outside of the shouting match is has been made to be. Why has the Guidance Counselor Association President supposedly changed her tune since the original position.
In an interview with me this week, Dixon set the record straight. This is the first of a two-part report.
Helene Coley Nicholson (HCN): Mrs Dixon, tell us the backdrop against which the controversial comments were published.
Nina Dixon (ND): We had a student commit suicide on Friday, and on Monday the article came out, so it was really a dark period grieving for the student and at the same time feeling as though guidance counsellors in Jamaica were put in a bad light based on how the article was constructed. It was twisted around and certain things were left out.
The interview was wide. We spoke about different issues: what counsellors are facing, the societal issues, how the JTA [Jamaica Teachers’ Association] negotiates for the counsellors, and what we want them to negotiate for us. We spoke about what initiatives we plan to take to the minister [of education] so that he can help the growth of guidance and counselling in education. We spoke about a myriad of topics, and the last question the writer asked was, “How does the JAGCE plan to deal with students in the LGBT community?” I think that’s what the question was, and I responded that we don’t see the students based on their sex or their gender, whether it’s male of female, or their sexual preference, or what have you, we look at the issues that the students come with and we deal with those issues. I went on to say that there are three levels of homosexuality and when it comes to the second and third, the experimental stage and the committed stage, some counsellors are uncomfortable dealing with the issues that come within that stage.
The first level is the curiosity stage, where children or teenagers during puberty go through an identity crisis. They’re trying to find themselves. So all teenagers go through that stage, and sometimes they may feel a particular way, and so, talking, you realise that this person was just curious, or this person has now changed his or her mind, or they no longer feel that way or have those feelings.
A guidance counsellor can’t say this is right or this is wrong. You have to just let the students talk and express themselves. This curiosity stage is something that we can deal with. Now the experimental stage is somewhat sticky because I don’t remember in the teachers’ college getting in-depth in homosexuality and dealing with these stages. I learned all of this from a workshop that the JAGCE put on a couple years back at our annual conference.
I went to high school in New York and lived in Atlanta for years and I was exposed to a myriad of news reports, working with persons in that community. So counsellors would call me to say, ‘ Nina, how do you deal with this, or what steps do I take, who can I refer to?’ So that is why I know there is some level of discomfort when dealing with certain levels. It’s not that the counsellors don’t want to deal with them, sometimes we just don’t know how; and I know persons will probably get on me for saying that, but if we don’t know how to deal with it we just don’t know how; and this is where we need to do workshops and get other methods of sensitising the counsellors, so that the child can get the help that he or she needs.
HCN: Is there a problem of discrimination by guidance counsellors as it relates to students who are experimenting or who are at the committed stage of homosexuality?
ND: I wouldn’t use the word discrimination. I would use the word discomfort. I don’t know of one guidance counsellor who has discriminated. I’m a reporting queen. I report cuts and minor bruises, so there is no way that I’d have a guidance counsellor or know of a guidance counsellor who is being discriminatory or is shunning a student and not report that guidance counsellor.
I don’t know of a guidance counsellor who has ever victimised a student because he is curious or experimenting with homosexual behaviour. No one has ever reported that to me. I just know that they feel uncomfortable dealing with certain areas of homosexuality, and it’s not homosexuality alone.
We have guidance counsellors who are uncomfortable in other areas. For example, I have a difficulty dealing with grief when it happens in my school. We have guidance counsellors who can’t deal with a case of rape because maybe they were raped. We are human beings and things happen in life. It happens to the best of us; whether we are lawyers or doctors, guidance counsellor, priest, things happen in life, and sometimes certain things trigger and this is when the counsellor or teacher or whomever goes and gets the help that they need not that they should lose their job or be criticised or condemned, they are human beings.
In those situations, we have a referral system within the ministry because we have social workers assigned to the ministry in each region. We lean on them as well as our education officers sometimes when we are stuck. Then we have various agencies, depending on the situation, that we make referrals to and psychologists that work for the Child Guidance Clinic who offer their services privately. So we have a protocol and we’re trained in teachers’ college or wherever we went to school. Where there is discomfort or you have used up your requisite skills you refer.
Meanwhile the implicated JAGCE President Nina Dixon in an interview on Nationwide radio with a counsellor Nadine Maloy, Ruel Reid Principal of Jamaica College and another Principal one Kassan Troupe on January 19, 2016 said the following practically changing her stance in my eyes when asked about her comment to the Gleaner:
“We notice that really some counsellors are uncomfortable dealing with issues that they were not trained to deal with; counsellors are well trained, we have well trained counsellors in our country but some counsellors are uncomfortable giving guidance without proper information dealing with that sensitive topic ....... it’s a taboo; it’s still a taboo topic.”
When asked if counsellors are refusing to counsel LGBT students she said:
“No, they would be fired, we work for the ministry of education and the ministry states that we look at students and listen to their issues, if we are uncomfortable or if we don’t feel that we can help that student fully we have a referral system that we utilize; and we have different agencies and different specialists that we turn to when things get difficult; you know that we can’t handle or deal with.”
She then made the definitive denial:
“A guidance counsellor has never refused to treat a student however they’ve stated that they are uncomfortable with some situations and sometimes it is based on their Christianity, what they’ve been taught in the church, how they’ve been raised; our culture."
Now I am even more befuddled than ever since this matter broke as where is the proof from Miss Nina that NO counsellor was dismissed due to non-engagement while not specifying LGBT students as the subject in the sessions and why didn’t Cliff Hughes and Dennis Brooks who interviewed her allowed that to simply fly pass in the wind? The JAGCE President did not mention the suicide matter as she did in another interview she gave to President of the anti gay group Lawyers’ Christian Fellowship LCF Helen Coley Nicholson and posted here. Given what transpired some years ago from as early as 2004 from memory when a male student was set upon by his own father who incited a mob at Dunoon High School and the subsequent discussions involving folks such as the late Dr Heather Little-White which resulted in some incremental changes to the referral systems as it was also unearthed that some counsellors were inappropriately using referrals as a cop-out or others were using a reparative therapy strategy for change while forcing students to suppress same gender desires with some transgender students allegedly being told they have a mental problem as well. Then came the ‘Lesbian learning matter’ and so called coercion on female students by other students as well as posted here; after the firestorm the Principals’ Association, guidance counsellors and other professionals also huddled sometimes in tense sessions to iron out the way forward and similar discomfort issues were mentioned which led to a further tightening of the referral systems etc.
So it seems both JFLAG and the JAGCE President need to heed some advice in terms of tracking what both entities have done regarding this business of counsellors, LGBTQ students and where or what actually happened so that we can avoid such firestorms as this again; foot in mouth seems a chronic re-infection for the goodly J especially when the new blood do not take the time review the files or remove previously published press releases on similar matters so as to plan how to tread when present issues arrive as a curve ball at the crease. In the same breath the JAGCE President in addressing the matter at the Gleaner forum should have been guarded in her answer not for to deceive or cover up but for clarity and issue a caution answer whilst reviewing her own organization’s file as to what preceded her tenure seeing she seems young.
When will we have the courage in the education systems and at policy despite mere tokenism from the MOE on tolerance? The HFLE matter is still fresh in my mind despite years have passed as nationally we missed a golden opportunity to address early initiation, homo-curiosity, sexual orientation issues, sexuality, gender identity and such regarding teens instead fear got the better or persons who were supposed to be rational.
Think on these things.
Peace & tolerance