The BC Human Rights Tribunal has dismissed a Vancouver school librarian’s complaint that she was discriminated against on religious grounds for not putting up gay-straight alliance stickers or stocking gay-friendly books in her library.
The ruling upheld regulations and previous court rulings that say schools must be tolerant of diversity and that it is incumbent on teachers to be professional despite their personal views.
Queer teachers and school trustees are hailing the decision as a landmark one which will help make classrooms throughout the province more gay-friendly.
“It makes it clear in terms of human rights that teachers have the right to believe in whatever they want to believe, but don’t have the right to behave in a way that violates the Human Rights Code,” says queer Vancouver school trustee Jane Bouey.
In her human rights complaint Po Yu Emmy Chiang, the sponsor of University Hill Secondary School’s Christian Fellowship Club, alleged that teacher Megan Fergusson and principal Jill Philipchuk singled her out for her acting on her religious beliefs.
But, noted tribunal member Lindsay Lyster, Chiang had to be guided by the provincial “School Act’s requirement that schools be conducted on secular and non-sectarian principles, and the requirements arising under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the BC Human Rights Code that schools provide a tolerant learning environment, free from discrimination.”
In January 2007, Fergusson, who sponsors University Hill’s gay-straight alliance, gave teachers rainbow stickers to put in their classrooms to indicate they were gay-friendly spaces.
“When the stickers were displayed by many teachers, it clearly marked me as teacher who did not ‘support’ these students since I chose not to display the sticker on the library door,” Chiang says in her complaint. “Most staff and some students know me to be religious. They may interpret the non-display as related to my beliefs.”
But, ruled Lyster, the choice to display the sticker or not was indeed Chiang’s, as Fergusson had told her.
Lyster said Chiang alleged no facts to indicate she was discriminated against.
Further, Lyster notes, “Chiang does not say that her choice not to display a rainbow sticker was related to her religious beliefs.”
“Ms Chiang’s choice not to display a rainbow sticker was just that, her choice. The respondents are not responsible for her choice or how others might have perceived it,” Lyster said in dismissing Chiang’s complaint.
“Ms Chiang has failed to allege that anyone actually did interpret her choice in the manner suggested.”