Mission school board trustees unanimously approved anti-homophobia policy April 22, making it the 30th school district in the province to adopt some sort of measure to address discrimination against LGBT students.
While the district passed a Respectful Schools Harassment and Anti-Bullying policy last June, trustee Randy Cairns felt it didn’t go far enough to address specific forms of discrimination.
“I had hoped that the need for further policy support would not be necessary, but on further reflection and seeing other districts implementing anti-homophobia policy, I believe the Sexual Minority policy is necessary to further educate employees and students to the complexities and discrimination people face every day in society,” Cairns told the trustees.
“My personal view is that bullying is an overused word — actually it’s harassment — and sometimes I think bullying may be equated with children, and anybody can be bullied or harassed,” Cairns told Xtra. “When you talk about harassment, then you start talking about prohibited grounds of discrimination. In my view, that means [having] an educational component for anybody, not just for students.”
Cairns says his attendance at a conference where he watched footage of high-school students speaking about their experiences with discrimination in schools inspired him to do more.
He says he used the anti-homophobia policy that was passed in the Delta school district as a template that he “tweaked” to suit the Mission school district.
“Most of the things that were in that policy are part and parcel of the policy that we passed as a board,” he says.
“It talks about us being committed to supporting a safe and positive learning environment for all students and employees . . . including but not limited to those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, two-spirited, queer, pansexual or who are questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Cairns says the new policy reaffirms commitment to the anti-discrimination principles contained in the BC Human Rights Code, the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
The policy encourages curriculum review and the use of recommended learning resources and strategies to raise awareness about human rights issues, including discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Cairns says the district is also expected to provide required training for staff, trustees and parent advisory councils to develop awareness and skills to “identify and eliminate sexual minority and gender identity discrimination.”
Cairns, who has served as a trustee for nine years, says there’s been no backlash from the community over the policy. Trustees, the teachers’ union and staff have all been supportive, he says.
Parents were also generally supportive, he says, though some expressed concern about how sexual orientation would be explained to young students. “That’s our job to work on that,” he says. “We got nothing that was in any way negative, saying, ‘We don’t want this.’”
The policy’s passage is a “very positive story,” Cairns says.
“You know what? It’s one more school district in this province that has seen fit to put something in policy to support equality and dignity and respect for all people.”