Five days before the Jubran ruling, the BC School Trustees Association passed a motion encouraging school districts across the province to specifically address the safety concerns of their queer students and prohibit any homophobic discrimination against them.
Gay education activist James Chamberlain says he’s “very pleased” with the motion. It’s a really positive first step, he says, especially from the trustees association which is “quite a conservative body.”
This motion gives school boards “permission to deal with the issue,” he explains. It’s a recognition that homophobia and discrimination on the basis of gender identity are real problems in BC’s schools.
“The only black mark is that this motion wouldn’t have been needed if the provincial government had stepped up to the plate,” Chamberlain continues. If the government had just ordered school boards to address homophobia and implement codes of conduct specifically prohibiting homophobic harassment when it had the chance with its Safe Schools Task Force and subsequent policy guidelines, this motion wouldn’t be necessary now.
Gay MLA Lorne Mayencourt, who chaired the Safe Schools Task Force, says he tried to do just that when he introduced a private member’s bill two months ago, but gay critics panned it.
Mayencourt says his Safe Schools Act would have made it mandatory for all school boards across BC to implement codes of conduct-codes that would have specifically prohibited many forms of discrimination, including homophobia and harassment on the basis of gender identity. The bill died on the table last month, when the legislative session ended early.
Mayencourt issued a press release the day before the trustees met on Apr 1, urging them to broaden their motion. “It’s not just a gay and lesbian issue,” Mayencourt wrote. He suggested adding protections against sexism and racism to the motion as well.
He later told Xtra West he was hoping the trustees would seize the opportunity to “endorse the principles behind the Safe Schools Act,” which sought to prohibit not just homophobia but discrimination on all 14 grounds listed in the BC Human Rights Code.
“Our job as adults is to protect children from any form of discrimination in our school system,” he says. “There’s no point in doing two-fourteenths of a job.”
“Mayencourt is totally out to lunch on this one,” Chamberlain retorts. Homophobia “is a unique issue, one we have to name for what it is. Without specifically naming homophobia in schools we’re never going to get anywhere.” Besides, he notes, school districts already have policies on other forms of discrimination, such as sexism and racism.
Mayencourt is basically using “an argument used by homophobes” to water down protection against homophobia, Chamberlain charges.
“I used to think a lot of James Chamberlain,” Mayencourt replies, “but his mono-focus is a detriment to the cause that he says he is fighting for. I think James Chamberlain has done more damage to the cause of ending homophobia in our school system than he can possibly imagine.”