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Opponents pack Burnaby school board meeting

Board sends anti-homophobia policy back to committee

Nearly 100 opponents, many of them from Burnaby's Willingdon Church and nearly all of Asian descent, packed the district's school board meeting on April 26. Credit: Shauna Lewis photo

Staunch opponents outnumbered supporters 10 to one when the Burnaby school board met to discuss passing an anti-homophobia policy on April 26.

Nearly 100 concerned parents and citizens, many of them members of Burnaby’s Willingdon Church and nearly all of Asian descent, crowded into the packed board room holding handmade signs that read “No to 5.45.”

The Burnaby Board of Education’s policy 5.45 aims to protect the rights of gay students. However, some concerned parents claim the draft is nothing more than reverse discrimination, an infringement of human rights and, if adopted, an invasion on parental rights.

“I agree that schools should protect all our children from discrimination and harm,” says Heather Leung. “But there is no need to single out certain groups by setting up administrative regulations and strategies for the sake of promotion.

“By implementing administrative regulations and strategy you are putting labels of ‘gay,’ ‘lesbian,’ ‘bisexual,’ transgendered,’ ‘transsexual,’ ‘two-spirited’ and ‘queer’ on the children,” she says, adding that the policy would compel students to “question their sexual orientation and sexual identity.”

“The draft policy imposes on children the idea that their family is perpetrating negative stereotypes when parents educate their children with the values that are consistent with their moral beliefs,” says George Kovacic.

Kovacic believes the anti-homophobia policy uses children as “pawns to promote a particular social agenda.”

James Sanyshyn is vice-president of the Burnaby Teachers’ Association and sits on the committee tasked with addressing homophobia in the district’s schools. He praises the board for passing a draft of the anti-homophobia policy on Feb 22.

The policy “will create a climate where all students can be who they are while feeling safe and supported by the school system,” he says, urging the board to adopt the final draft “swiftly and unedited.”

“If there are a hundred of you here then some of you will have a gay and lesbian or transgendered or bisexual son or daughter,” lesbian Burnaby district school counsellor Debra Sutherland told the meeting. “And I hope you will understand that their number one way of staying alive, productive and healthy is your love and support.”

“What students need is support,” agrees 19-year-old Anthea Ballam. “Students need to learn that not only is [sexual orientation] not a choice — it’s not a problem. Why are we punished for expressing our love in a different way? High school is hard enough as it is. Let’s help try to make it easier for those who are just trying to be themselves.”

Some parents threatened to remove their children from the district if it passes the policy. Others said they would be open to further talks.

“I do think there is room for some of this policy to be part of the curriculum,” says parent James Gray. But the father of two elementary school students believes education regarding homosexuality should be reserved for Grade 7 or higher.

The school board referred the matter back to committee for further discussion. A final decision on the policy is expected by the end of this school year.  

Of BC’s 60 school districts, only 12 have passed anti-homophobia policies.