It looks like Lorne Mayencourt actually kept his promise.
After months of delays, Vancouver-Burrard’s gay MLA finally introduced his Safe Schools bill in the BC legislature Apr 24. And it’s not half bad.
In fact, it’s pretty damn good. If passed, the bill will finally order every school board in BC to implement a code of conduct explicitly prohibiting harassment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It even addresses the roots of such harassment, requiring school boards to make the new policy “known to all members of the school community through human rights educational programs.”
It’s been a long time coming.
Mayencourt has been promising just such a bill ever since he chaired the province’s disappointing Safe Schools Task Force in 2003. After almost a year of research (revealing among other things the debilitating impact of homophobia on many queer students across BC), the task force released seven weak recommendations. None of them mentioned homophobia by name.
Last February, just three months before the provincial election, Mayencourt tried to rectify the situation. But critics panned the first draft of his Safe Schools bill, saying it stopped short of making the new codes–and their prohibition on homophobic harassment–mandatory. The bill died on the order paper before Mayencourt could introduce it to the legislature.
Mayencourt later told Xtra West that he meant to make the new codes mandatory all along. His new draft does.
Making it mandatory is “a big move,” he said last September, as he prepared the new draft. “It causes concerns. It opens up legal liabilities. But it is the only way of addressing the issue in schools because some schools want to turn a blind eye to this.”
No shit. Right now, of BC’s 60 school boards, only two have voluntarily implemented comprehensive anti-homophobia policies. Two more explicitly mention sexual orientation in their general anti-discrimination policies. The rest are silent, many reluctant to admit they even have gay students, let alone homophobia, in their hallways.
Mayencourt’s bill could change all that.
“I think it is very possible we could change the culture of the school,” he told Xtra West on the eve of his bill’s introduction.
I think he’s right. And I think he’s demonstrating significant political savvy in the way he’s phrased his bill.
Remember, the bill orders BC school boards to implement mandatory codes of conduct in their districts prohibiting harassment, as well as bullying, intimidation and discrimination, on a number of different grounds, including sexual orientation and gender identity. The other grounds are: race, colour, ancestry, place of origin, political belief, religion, marital status, family status, social status, physical or mental disability, sex, and age. Sexual orientation and gender identity are tucked firmly in between sex and age.
“This bill is really about basic human values,” Mayencourt said in a press release timed to coincide with his bill. “This bill would provide guidelines consistent with the BC Human Rights Code and would make our schools a better place for our students.”
By couching sexual orientation and gender identity in human rights terms, Mayencourt astutely reset the terms of this debate. Even the biggest bigot will be hard-pressed to deny students their basic human rights, threatened though they may feel by the bill’s equal protection for sexual orientation and gender identity.
Lest anyone suspect Mayencourt is simply shying away from the real point of this exercise, rest assured he does not seem to be. The very next paragraph in the press release I just quoted says: “Mayencourt said every school district should have policies prohibiting bullying, harassment, intimidation and discrimination on the basis of a student’s race, gender or sexual orientation.”
It’s no secret that I haven’t been the biggest fan of Mayencourt’s performance as an MLA these past few years. We obviously differ on our approach to street people and I can’t see the appeal of his Apology Act (it just looks like a way for people in power to offer empty apologies to me).
But I like his new Safe Schools bill. And I appreciate Mayencourt’s dogged persistence to keep putting this issue back on the table until it’s addressed.
I just wish he had introduced it sooner. This session of the BC legislature ends May 18. That means we only have a few days left to convince his government colleagues to pass the bill before it dies on the table yet again.
Mayencourt is optimistic his bill will pass before the summer break. Still, he told Xtra West last month that “it might be hard for some of our members to vote for it. I don’t think there’s homophobia in the caucus. But I do know that there is homophobia in the caucus’ constituencies. I mean, gender identity, that’s going to be a flash point, I know.”
Obviously, he needs our help. He needs us to tell his government how unsafe most schools are for queer students and how this bill can change that. He needs each and every one of us to pick up the phone or send an e-mail right now. Time is ticking.