4 min

Homophobia just a ‘made-up’ slur: Simpson

That's misleading, says history prof

Homophobia is a made-up slur designed to "demean, demoralize and foster hatred" against people who oppose homosexuality, says Kari Simpson (centre with RoadKill Radio co-host Ron Gray). Credit: Janet Rerecich photo

Conservative activist Kari Simpson says she has filed a human rights complaint against the Vancouver School Board (VSB) for fostering hate against Christians by “advocating the use of slurs like homophobe, homophobic, homophobia and heterosexism.”

In the complaint dated April 18, Simpson alleges the VSB is “actively engaged” in promoting hate and contempt for Christians by endorsing the anti-homophobia program Out in Schools, which, she claims, contains materials that “deliberately mock Christians, promote racism and undermine religious dictates and cultural values of some students and staff.”

In her complaint, Simpson describes words like homophobia and homophobic as “made-up.”

They’re designed to “demean, demoralize and foster hatred and contempt for those who acknowledge the scientific, medical and economic harm associated with certain sexual practices,” she claims.

“We are indoctrinating kids with the directive to use hateful slurs against individuals whose opinions they don’t agree with,” she told Xtra on April 24.

“Exchanging one form of bullying for another is not the answer and should not be tolerated,” she says.

“We look at respecting all rights,” counters VSB chair Patti Bacchus.

Calling homophobia a “made-up” word is absurd, she says. “It’s a way, in my opinion, that they’re trying to provoke an opportunity to get publicity.”

“Whether it’s a word like homophobia or a word like racism or a word like sexism — it describes a kind of response or attitude,” Bacchus says. “It’s not attributing it to anyone.”

Simon Fraser University history professor Elise Chenier says Simpson is “absolutely” right that words like homophobia are made-up. “Just like racism and sexism are made-up words,” she says. All these words are necessary to identify systemic problems that exist but didn’t previously have names.

“To suggest that they are hateful when they are intended to combat injustices is, I would say, misleading — a misunderstanding of what those words actually mean,” Chenier says.

In the glossary of its anti-homophobia policy, the VSB defines homophobia as “the irrational fear and hatred of homosexuals.” Simpson says this definition accuses people who oppose sexual practices that are “provably harmful” of being mentally unstable. 

Historically, Chenier says, there has always been resistance when people make advances on issues around equality, sexism and homophobia. What’s new, she contends, is suggesting that the very terms meant to describe discrimination are now being labelled as hate.

That conservative activists such as Simpson are changing strategy means their old strategy isn’t working, Chenier suggests.

“It’s a new strategy to use the strategies we’re using,” Chenier says. “What we see is the right taking those terms and turning them around and using them for their purpose. Which is to say, ‘By you imposing your equal rights agenda on me, which violates my own principles, you are being hateful towards me.’

“That’s an interesting strategy, but I think it will fail,” she says. “The majority of Canadians today believe queers should have equal rights protections.”

Chenier sees Simpson’s human rights complaint as a marginal case and says the battle for hearts and minds has already been won. But she doesn’t believe the war is over.

“Just like the majority of Canadians will be opposed to differential treatment of non-whites and women, it doesn’t mean racism and sexism don’t occur,” she points out.

Asked if she believes homophobia doesn’t exist, Simpson pauses, then limits her discussion to the VSB’s definition of “irrational fear.” That definition ascribes a medical psychosis that does not exist, she says. “As defined within the Vancouver School Board, and the degree that it’s suggesting that it is, no it doesn’t.”

Asked how she would ensure the safety of queer students, Simpson says they should be treated consistently with the Charter of Rights. Everybody should be protected from hateful slurs, she says, including fat kids, nerds and kids who wear glasses.

“We don’t have, as I say, fat-ophobia, we don’t have glass-ophobia, we don’t have nerd-ophobia,” she points out.

Simpson says she has filed the complaint on behalf of “Chinese Christians residing in Vancouver.”

When asked whom she is representing specifically, Simpson says she won’t reveal names to protect their safety.

The representative complaint form, also bearing Simpson’s signature, states she has been a spokesperson for the group “in matters relating to the VSB” and that she has been asked to represent them here.

“What I think we see them doing is a strategy that the Harper government has adopted, which is to go after new immigrant groups,” Chenier suggests. “Although the Chinese have been in Canada for 100 and a half years — and in fact many Asian people have played a key role in gay liberation and queer struggles in Canada — what she’s doing is parallel to what we see happening elsewhere, which is tapping into the more conservative new-immigrant community that we have coming now and saying we’re going to protect your values.”

This is nothing new, Chenier observes. In the 1950s and ’60s, politicians courted other immigrant groups. Back then, she notes, Italians who came to Canada, displaced by the war, were seen as very racially different. “They were more left-leaning, and you had this flowering of the Liberal and the NDP in the ’60s and the ’70s because of this influx of immigrants.

“Historically, immigration has had very significant impact on the political culture in Canada,” Chenier adds. “We see this happening again but on the other side of the ledger.”

Simpson says there are “a number of other groups waiting in the wings” to join her complaint but won’t specify who these additional groups are. “When we make that public, if we need to, we’re hoping that the Vancouver School Board is reasonable in this and sits down and mediates,” she says. “We’ve indicated our willingness to mediate this with them.”

Bacchus says the school board has yet to receive official notification of Simpson’s complaint from the tribunal.