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Kamloops school board addresses homophobia

Of BC’s 60 school districts, 32 now have policies addressing homophobia

Superintendent Karl deBruijn (left) and the Kamloops/Thompson school board added anti-homophobia language to the board’s existing anti-discrimination policy Feb 2. Credit: screen shot from CFJC News

The Kamloops/Thompson school board voted Feb 2 to add anti-homophobia language to its anti-discrimination and human rights policy.

“The intent of this policy is to ensure that an environment of tolerance and respect is fostered, promoted and supported throughout the district’s working and learning community, specifically for sexual orientation, racial and gender diversity,” the policy says.

With this move, Kamloops/Thompson becomes the 32nd school district in BC to adopt a policy that explicitly addresses homophobia. As of mid-May 2014, only 31 of the province’s 60 districts had passed such policies; 29 had yet to explicitly address discrimination based on sexual orientation in their districts. 

Kamloops superintendent Karl deBruijn tells Xtra the board wanted to create a policy that would foster a positive learning and employment environment in line with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the BC Human Rights Code. The amended policy says it will not tolerate racism, homophobia or any other form of discrimination within the school district contrary to the code. Instead, it will promote a learning environment that emphasizes tolerance, equality and non-discrimination.

The policy also says the board is committed to hiring employees on the basis of merit consistent with human rights; providing students with educational programs to help them participate in and contribute to a diverse society; reducing language and cultural barriers; and communicating effectively with all students, parents, employees and other partner groups in its diverse community.

DeBruijn says some people pushed for a discrete anti-homophobia policy, rather than adding provisions to the district’s existing anti-discrimination policy, while others preferred the latter approach to buttress and broaden the existing policy.

“The board struggled a little bit with that part because they were supportive of all views,” he says.

He says he looked up the word “homophobia” in several dictionaries to ensure its correct usage, after one person objected to its use. “The board felt that it was using it in a current context and the meaning is understood by the majority of people,” says deBruijn, who was promoted to superintendent, from assistant superintendent, last August.

Kamloops Thompson Teachers’ Association president David Komljenovic tells Xtra that, while the policy has been a long time in coming, he’s pleased with it.

“I think it’s very important because it addresses issues related to LGBT students and teachers and support staff,” he says. “We haven’t had those specific protections prior to that.”

“I’ve heard nothing but praise for the policy,” he adds.

Gay education advocate Ryan Clayton tells Xtra he’s thrilled that a district that once seemed resistant to such a policy has adopted one he calls simple yet effective. Having grown up in Salmon Arm, Clayton spent time in Kamloops when he was younger and says it was always a community supportive of queer youth.

“It reflects the Kamloops I know,” he says of the policy. “It’s one of the more simple policies. It touches on what it needs to. I’m happy with it.”

He says he expects the policy will take shape as it’s implemented. “All of the pieces are there,” he says. “They could implement something amazing.” Now he wonders when the provincial government will catch up with the more progressive school districts and mandate a provincewide policy that explicitly protects students from homophobia.

Scott Sutherland, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Education, tells Xtra there are no plans for a discrete provincial anti-homophobia policy. He says codes of conduct are in place in all 60 districts, and they’re all expected to follow the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the BC Human Rights Code and the Schools Act, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

“Everyone in the system must abide by the codes of conduct,” he says. “The ministry expects boards of education are . . . helping to breathe life into the codes of conduct in order to maintain environments that are respectful and orderly for all students and staff.”