BC’s Sunshine Coast became the 18th school district in the province to implement a stand-alone anti-homophobia policy on June 12, receiving unanimous support from board members.
“There was no dissent or public demonstration,” says Sunshine Coast Teachers’ Association president Louise Herle. “You know how some of the school districts had controversy around it. Here it was done with a very clear process that involved teachers, parents and senior administrators working together on a committee.”
The sexual orientation and gender identity policy, as it’s officially known, was initiated by lesbian trustee Betty Baxter in response to a request from a mother who attended a parent advisory council in February.
“She felt that her young son had to take on the world to say he had two moms,” Baxter says. “I had a brief conversation with the board chair and asked the parent to sit on the committee, and we took it to the March board meeting, explained that it had been raised by the parent and asked the board to look at an ad hoc committee.”
Board chair Silas White says he is excited the policy was conceived and implemented within four months in a fairly straightforward manner.
“Hopefully in the provincial context it will inspire other districts to do the same because it shouldn’t be that hard — it really shouldn’t,” he says. “It’s a straightforward issue that really backs up a lot of school districts’ values in being concerned with individual rights and the safety of our students.”
So far, only 18 of BC’s 60 school districts have passed anti-homophobia policy.
The guidelines that accompany Sunshine Coast’s policy include an extensive glossary of LGBT-related terms developed by two students from Chatelech Secondary’s gay-straight alliance (GSA).
“Right now a big part of changing culture is changing language ,” says Chatelech’s GSA teacher-sponsor Paddy McCallum. “They were given an opportunity to be change agents and can use language as a talking point with other students and teachers. So when these terms come up, we’re all literally reading from the same page on how we are defining certain terms, including what terms are considered homophobic and what terms are accurate.”
McCallum believes the new policy will complement the work of Chatelech’s GSA. “One of the reasons the GSA was created here [was] to support kids who are feeling bullied or isolated,” he says. “We organize pink-day events on behalf of teen mental health. And that’s enabled them to work gay kids and straight kids together. And with this policy language, they are able to take a more activist role in addressing some of that hurtful language.”
Baxter says the board will work with administrators, staff and students to create new guidelines and resources to ensure the policy is effective. “In the fall we can put together some training materials on the policy,” she says. “You can’t just put a piece of policy out there. There’s a lot of material out there.”
Baxter hopes the policy will “become part of a resource kit for teachers and parents. For our school district we’ll have some kind of training on the policy and what I hope is a community that’s much more aware of the depths of the issue and be visible.”
Sunshine Coast School District is located across Howe Sound approximately 30 kilometres northwest of Vancouver and includes the communities of Gibsons, Roberts Creek and Sechelt. Baxter describes it as a progressive and gay-friendly region.
“There’s a large lesbian community here, and there’s a very progressive political community,” she says. “People are very concerned about conservation and living with a smaller carbon footprint. There’s also a lively sense of democracy. If people are concerned about an issue, [they] use whatever advocacy they can to correct it.”
At least four more BC school districts are scheduled to consider anti-homophobia policies this month, including Bulkley Valley and Fraser Cascade, on June 19; Saanich, on June 20; and Surrey, on June 21.