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NDP promises to address homophobia in schools

'A specific problem needs a specific response,' MLA says

"I'm pleased the NDP is going to move on this because the Liberals certainly haven't," says teacher James Chamberlain. Credit: Leah Bromley photo

The BC NDP’s platform, released April 24, promises to introduce a provincewide standard for school codes of conduct to ensure that policies exist to “deal effectively” with homophobia and transphobia.

“A specific problem needs a specific response,” says Vancouver-West End NDP incumbent Spencer Chandra Herbert.

“You don’t promise something if you’re not going to deliver it,” he adds.

It’s a promise that has queer activists cautiously hopeful that the NDP has the political will to turn pledges into action after Christy Clark promised to address homophobic bullying as a “top priority” in 2011, when she was running for the Liberal Party leadership.

“It’s been a long time coming,” says BC Teachers’ Federation second vice-president Glen Hansman. “It’s very positive they’re specifically naming homophobia and transphobia, unlike the BC Liberal Party, which continues to hide behind the bullying umbrella.”

Hansman says the Liberals have shied away from dealing with the issues when leadership was needed.

The Liberal Party made no one available to speak about the NDP pledge despite Xtra‘s repeated attempts to seek comment.

Clark never followed through on her leadership campaign promise.

“If I become premier, one of the very clear directives I am going to give to the education minister is I want you to deal with bullying in schools as a top priority,” she told Xtra on Jan 8, 2011, at the Oasis lounge on Davie Street.

“Homophobic bullying is the number-one form of it [bullying], so, yes, they have to make sure that’s part of what they’re targeting when they target bullies,” she continued.

Her government never introduced a policy to specifically target homophobia, but it did launch the ERASE (Expect Respect and a Safe Education) Bullying strategy in 2012, which promised to ensure every child feels safe, accepted and respected, regardless of their gender, race, culture, religion or sexual orientation.

If elected to form government on May 14, the Liberals promise to “continue to build upon the successful” ERASE program “to address bullying and harmful behaviours.”

Clark has also been a driving force behind BC’s Pink Shirt Day and organized the Nov 13 anti-bullying summit in Vancouver — although that was criticized for lacking queer voices.

Education Minister Don McRae announced that work was underway to strengthen school codes of conduct when he addressed the anti-bullying summit last November. But, when pressed, neither he nor Clark could give specifics on how the codes would be strengthened or what role the government would play in their strengthened implementation.

“The codes are good,” Clark told Xtra at the time. “The problem at the moment is that they’re not consistently being applied across the province.”

“Right now they’re hit-and-miss around the district,” McRae echoed.

Asked what the government’s role should, therefore, be, Clark said, “That’s what we’re doing today,” pointing to ERASE Bullying and its mandate to train 15,000 educators across the province.

The government is looking for consistency because each district has its own language, McRae told Xtra.

Asked if that means the language of the codes would change, McRae said no. The strengthening will focus more on gender and racial issues, he said, as well as on establishing protocol to ensure districts have a clear set of actions to follow if bullying takes place.

Asked if sexual orientation would be specifically addressed, McRae said no.

“We’re not targeting one specific” group, he said; the government wants schools to be safe for everybody.

Only a third of BC’s 60 school boards have codes of conduct prohibiting bullying specifically on grounds of sexual orientation.

Chandra Herbert says the situation is about creating equality not only in law, but in schools and communities. He says the promised code would help that. “Now we have to win this election and make it real,” he says.

“I’m pleased the NDP is going to move on this because the Liberals certainly haven’t,” says teacher James Chamberlain. “It’s been a piecemeal deal so far with the individual school boards.”

Chamberlain urges the NDP to not only introduce policy, but to make sure it’s enforced. “Without teeth, they just sit on the shelf and collect dust.”

Student Ryan Clayton was behind 2011’s Purple Letter Campaign, which saw hundreds of letters from the queer community delivered to the government. He says the NDP promise is “short, sweet and vague, but it looks good.”

Still, he remains skeptical, having watched the Liberals’ promises go unfulfilled.

“I was very hopeful when Christy Clark promised to do the same thing,” Clayton says. “I’ll be the same way with the NDP.”