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Local and National news

Kempling loses
The Quesnel teacher suspended for a month without pay after the BC College of Teachers found his letters to a newspaper “derogatory and demeaning” toward queers had his BC Court of Appeal action turned down, Jun 13.

Chris Kempling was suspended for professional misconduct in 2003 for his writings between 1997 and 2000.

He appealed to the BC Supreme Court saying the Charter of Rights protected him. The court rejected his arguments.

Kempling then appealed to the appeal court, which denied his action earlier this month.

“In his writings, Mr Kempling made clear that his discriminatory beliefs would inform his actions as a teacher and counsellor,” the appeal court ruled. “Mr Kempling’s statements, even in the absence of any further actions, present an obstacle for homosexual students in accessing a discrimination-free education environment.”

BC Supreme Court Justice Heather Holmes ruled last year that teachers such as Kempling cannot use free speech as a defence when making discriminatory statements in their professional capacity. Holmes heard the case after Kempling challenged the BC College of Teachers’ 2003 decision to suspend him because his writings were found to be “discriminatory and contrary to the core values of the educational system.”

Kempling had also told his students that sexual orientation can be cured.

The appeal court decision agrees with a request from the BC Civil Liberties Association (BCCLA).

High school counsellors should limit public utterances so they don’t interfere with their job of maintaining a respectful and safe environment for queer pupils, the BCCLA says.

– Jeremy Hainsworth

Youthquest delays AGM
Youthquest’s board of directors has undergone yet more changes, but the new chair says the society is stable and still providing drop-in centre support for queer youth in BC’s Lower Mainland.

Last October, the membership of Youthquest ousted its entire board and elected a new set of directors. Most of those directors resigned within a few months.

In March, then-chair Jeff Gauthier told Xtra West that the membership of Youthquest wanted to have a more grassroots society run by youth for youth. He also said the society would hold its next annual general meeting (AGM) in June.

Since March, Gauthier has moved to another position on the board and the society has elected five new board members, including new board chair Ray Lam. There are still six vacant board seats. The other new members on the board are: David Farget, Garett Humchitt, Lia Koutsodimos and Karen Ayotte.

Lam now says the next AGM likely won’t take place until October.

But Youthquest is continuing to rebound well with a renewed focus on the drop-in centres, Lam says. “Our statistics keep growing every year. In 2002, we had 13-15 drop-in centres. In that year we had about 4,000 visits. Last year, in 2004, we had only five drop-in centres running and we had 3,500 visits.”

Lam says the board now meets every week instead of once a month. He says the board is a much more hands-on body instead of a policy board, with each of the eight current board members directly responsible for a section of the organization’s operation.

Xtra West’s calls to other Youthquest staff and board members were not returned by press time.

Despite losing all government funding due to a combination of provincial spending cutbacks in 2002 and the instability in the organization in 2004, Lam says Youthquest is still solvent.

“We still have enough funds in our account to support the two paid staff. People are donating and we are still looking for funds.”

“We’re not looking [for funding] specifically in the government right now,” he adds. “We’re looking into fundraising events and we’re also looking to private donors.”

On Apr 15, Vancouver-Burrard MLA Lorne Mayencourt presented The Centre’s Gab youth services program with $187,000 for education outreach. The money is to be used for presentation in schools. In past years, Youthquest received that funding.

Lam says although he’s disappointed Youthquest didn’t get that money, he understands the reasons behind the move.

“I think it was a fair decision,” he says. “If I was in their situation I would have done the same thing.”

Yellowknife cancels heterosexual day
Yellowknife city council proclaimed Jun 9 Heterosexual Day on May 24, but withdrew the proclamation a week later.

The move came at the request of Yellowknife city councillor Alan Woytuik who told Xtra West May 27 he wanted to balance the city’s proclamation of gay Pride Day for Jun 10, and that he wanted to protect the gay community from backlash.

“Basically, what I wanted to do was stop the pendulum effect,” says Woytiuk. “Giving special recognition to the gay community through gay Pride proclamations may be perceived by some people to be the start of the pendulum going past centre, inviting backlash and more resistance to completion of the equality process.”

Don Babey, spokesperson for Yellowknife’s queer community group OutNorth, said in a press release: “We thought every day was heterosexual day, but we’re pleased to have a special day to honour heterosexuals. After all, some of our best friends are heterosexuals.”

Babey says despite the way city council mocked OutNorth’s request for this year’s gay Pride Day proclamation, he still feels gay people are welcome both personally and professionally in Yellowknife.

“There’s a spot at the crossroads downtown in front of the post office where people often hand out brochures,” Babey told Xtra West. “We stand there on Pride Day and actually hand out cake. City councillors and MLAs have been there in the past to help us with that.”

At a special meeting of Yellowknife city council, May 30, Woytuik apologized for the offence his request caused and asked council to withdraw the proclamation, which it did.

C-2 stifles youth sexuality
Egale’s new board of directors has reversed itself on Bill C-2 and joined a chorus of artists and civil libertarians who oppose the bill.

The proposed bill “stifles dialogue about stuff we need to talk about,” says Hilary Cook, who served as chair of Egale’s legal committee for five years before recently taking an Ontario seat on the board of directors.

There were two main areas of the bill that concerned Egale: its impact on age of consent and its approach to defining and dealing with child porn.

Canada’s Criminal Code currently forbids people under 18 from having sex with those over 18 if the older person is in a position of trust or authority towards them. Otherwise, the 14-year-old has the right to choose their consensual sex partner.

But Bill C-2 would change that by introducing the idea of an “exploitative relationship” that the judge can infer “from the nature and circumstances of the relationship.” That’s unacceptably vague and disregards the rights of teens to choose their own sex partners, say critics.

Egale wants to recognize the reality of today’s gay teens, says Cook. “In a class of 25 students, the chance of finding the love of your life is much reduced,” she says. In a world of schoolyard harassment, bullying and generalized homophobia, teens often date and seek sex outside of their peer group, she adds.

It’s unrealistic to expect teens to have sex only with those of their own age, she continues. “That’s not the queer youth reality.”

At the same time, says Cook, it’s important to Egale that exploitation of youth is dealt with. “We definitely need to deal with the teacher who is preying on kids” for example, she says.

Cook is also concerned about the portions of the bill aimed at tightening Canada’s child porn laws. If passed, Bill C-2 will likely criminalize any work related to youth sexuality-even works based entirely on the artist’s imagination and involving no actual youth in their production.

The bill creates a definition of child pornography that is too broad and defences that are too narrow, she suggests. Among other things, that will stifle a discussion about exploitation and consensuality itself, she says. And that discussion needs to occur.

– Gareth Kirkby