I read your e-mail, Lorne, the one you sent out Saturday the 24th to Glen Philip Hansman and copied to me.
It was a gem of a letter you sent to Mr Hansman in response to one he sent you about the need for your provincial government to actively tackle homophobia and bashing in schools.
What really got my attention, Mr MLA, was your singling out a group of gay citizens as “Liberal government haters.” Imagine my surprise to find my name, and the name of Xtra West freelancer Jeremy Hainsworth, on that list, along with COPE school board trustee Jane Bouey (as a bisexual, a member of our community) and West End resident and very longtime gay activist Jim Deva. As a career journalist, I shouldn’t have to say this, but I will anyway for the record: I do not hate your provincial Liberal government, nor do I carry a card for any party at any level of government, nor have I in my nearly 20 years as a professional journalist. I know the same can be said of Jeremy Hainsworth. Your dismissal of a longtime activist like Jim Deva, someone who’s put more than 20 years into building a gay community in the West End, is also frankly staggering.
“As you know,” you write, “I rarely defend myself personally from the attacks by you and your cabal of Liberal government haters. I realize now with regards to this issue that enough is enough.”
Perhaps you changed your mind after sending this email. After all, you followed it up two days later with one noting a “recall” on the original. I wanted to ask you personally, and contacted your office to do so, but you didn’t get back.
It’s very strange behaviour for an MLA to send a letter like this to a citizen. It’s also clearly unacceptable behaviour for an MLA, a servant of all the people, including Mr Hansman.
Surely you’re not so thin-skinned and sensitive that you cannot accept questions about government policy, debate over courses of action, without assuming anyone who asks or critiques is an enemy of your government?
You will not find an enemy hiding under every question. In fact, our community has a history of working across political parties, and indeed across sex, race and religious differences, to accomplish common goals. Making schools safe for our queer young is, I would dare to venture, one goal that our entire community would have united behind you to address if you’d been more politically astute and shown genuine leadership.
You started off well, Lorne, as chair of the Safe Schools Task Force. You asked the community to make presentations to the task force as you toured the province. Xtra West repeatedly carried your message encouraging participation. And we carried your commitment that the final results would directly address gaybashing and the root problem of homophobia in schools. You got the turnout, city after city, as you toured the province. The presentations also gave you a mandate to recommend new policies directly addressing gaybashing and homophobia.
Lorne, it was you who dropped the ball after the community so clearly and determinedly handed it to you. Your interim report mentioned homophobia in the pages of discussion. But your policy recommendations did not directly address homophobia or gaybashing. They left too much discretion up to school administrators and school boards and they did not ensure new funds earmarked for new programs and new curriculum resources.
Youth groups and teachers gave it mixed marks and suggested improvements for the final version. But again, the final version was little better in addressing homophobia and gaybashing or funding voluntary measures.
There has been much speculation within our community about pressure from caucus, cabinet and the premier’s office to take all teeth out of the new guidelines. They should have been mandatory regulations, not optional guidelines. Even in Vancouver and Victoria, the only two BC cities to date to voluntarily address homophobia and gaybashing, the new policies are in danger as your government cuts education funding.
Lorne, if you’d come to the community when you encountered difficulties getting teeth into the report, queers of all political stripes would have lined up behind you and supported you as you demanded it from your government.
It was your failure, Lorne. Accept it. Stop trying to blame those who read the fine print of your disappointing report. And start behaving with the responsibility, openness and accountability befitting an MLA. Maybe we can still fix this issue if we all work together.
Gareth Kirkby is Managing Editor for Xtra.