While urban Burnaby parents and religious groups voice loud opposition to an anti-homophobia policy, rural Peace River South has quietly passed a gay-friendly measure that bans bullying based on sexual orientation.
Though the unanimously passed policy is not specifically an anti-homophobia one, the board of trustees noted some youth may feel isolated, socially alienated, mocked and anxious about revealing their personal circumstances or harassed because of intolerance by some in the school population.
The policy says students shall not discriminate against others on the basis of appearance, capacity, disability, colour, ethnicity, religion, real or perceived sexual orientation or for any other reason set out in BC’s Human Rights Code. Gestures, displaying or publication of anything that would indicate an intention to discriminate against an individual or group or expose them to contempt or ridicule are also barred.
Assistant district superintendent Rob Dennis told Xtra the policy brings the district into compliance with the government’s direction that harassment policies should mirror the Human Rights Code.
“It was a fairly lengthy process,” he says. “We involved the kids. The students told me primarily that they needed to be named as a group that protection was needed for.”
“This policy is intended to provide statutory protection for students and direction for schools toward fostering a culture of tolerance and equity,” an April 13 memo to trustees stated. “Schools will develop regulations that are in compliance with the BC Human Rights Code and with SD#59 policy.”
The policy gives 10 guidelines for schools to strive for in creating a safe learning environment, free of intolerance. It also addresses cyber-bullying.
Peace River South Teachers’ Association president Lorraine Mackay says the push to get the policy changed came from the students. “They went in and did a presentation to the board; the trustees were very supportive,” she notes.
In mid-May, students held an anti-homophobia day, which included a march through downtown Dawson Creek with students carrying the rainbow flag, she adds. “All of that was organized with approval of the teaching staff and administration,” Mackay says. “There was no problem with that on the streets. The kids were very proud to be doing it.”
In Burnaby, board trustees are facing the objections of parents and religious groups to policy 5.45, aimed to protect the rights of gay students. The proposed policy’s critics claim it is reverse discrimination, an infringement of human rights and, if adopted, an invasion of parental rights.