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NDP to BC Libs: address homophobia and trans rights

Take action on eve of Pride, Chandra Herbert demands

On the eve of Pride, the opposition BC NDP is calling on Premier Christy Clark and the Liberal government to ensure that every school in the province tackles homophobia and transphobia head on, and to vote in favour of a private member’s bill to explicitly protect trans people in the provincial Human Rights Code.

“Those are two of the demands that we are making, and we hope, in the spirit of Pride Week, the Liberals and Christy Clark can say today, ‘I agree, we’re going to make this happen,'” Vancouver West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert said at a press conference near English Bay on July 28.

Chandra Herbert introduced the trans rights private member’s bill in the legislature on May 26.

If the bill passes, BC will become the second province or territory in Canada to add gender identity to its human rights legislation. The Northwest Territories amended its Human Rights Act to add gender identity as a prohibited ground of discrimination in 2002.

Chandra Herbert says he sometimes gets supportive responses from Liberal MLAs when he introduces private member’s bills. “I got zero response on this one,” he reports. “I’m hoping that that just means they were focused on other things, but I guess the proof will be in the pudding. They could choose to introduce this themselves, or they could pass my private member’s bill.”

He says it’s hard to say when the bill will come up for debate.

Clark’s press secretary, Chris Olsen, says the premier cannot be reached for comment on the matter as she’s away for a couple of weeks. “I can’t really help you on that, unfortunately.”

As for the question of homophobic bullying, Chandra Herbert says he wrote to both the current education minister, George Abbott, and Clark after she was elected MLA for Vancouver Point Grey to ask her to fulfill her pledge to make homophobic bullying her top priority. He says Abbott wrote back to say that they would reinstate the Roots of Empathy program.

“And they did,” Chandra Herbert acknowledges, but not at the same level it used to be funded.

Chandra Herbert says he was also disappointed that Clark didn’t publicly applaud the Burnaby School Board’s recent passage of an anti-homophobia policy and call for every school board to follow suit. “That was a huge failure of leadership,” he believes.

Thirteen of BC’s 60 school districts have specific anti-homophobia policies in place, Chandra Herbert says. “The vast majority do not.”

And this is years after former Liberal education minister Shirley Bond said all school districts had to comply, he added. “Clearly something more needs to happen.”

A spokesperson for BC’s Education Ministry says its role is to set educational standards, allocate funds and monitor student achievement. But the ministry also expects the education system to comply with certain laws, including the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the BC Human Rights Code, he adds. “There is also language within the School Act that talks about the need to respect all individuals.”

He says the ministry has required every school district to have a code of conduct in place. Superintendents of all 60 districts have reported back to the ministry that all their schools are in compliance, the spokesperson notes.

Asked if those codes are specifically addressing homophobic bullying, the spokesperson says he can’t say. “There might be some there that specifically speak to homophobic or transphobic or any of that,” he says, but “they are in place and they speak to the overall respecting others, all those key parts of that.”

Boards of education are free to adopt local policies, the spokesperson continues. The decision to have specific policies against homophobia, for instance, is one made by the elected trustees in particular districts, he explains.

Asked if the Ministry of Education intends to require school boards to have specific policies, he says that’s a comment for the minister to make. Abbott was not available to speak to Xtra by posting time.