Homophobia is being grouped with all other forms of bullying under the Liberal government’s umbrella approach to combating bullying in BC schools, Premier Christy Clark told Xtra during an anti-bullying rally held at Point Grey Secondary School on Feb 27.
“We have a provincewide policy that bullying of any kind is wrong, whether that’s based on sexual orientation, culture, religion, race, anything. It is all wrong, it’s all harmful, and none of it should ever happen,” the premier said at the event to mark Pink Shirt Day.
“If it’s all unacceptable, it’s all unacceptable,” she replied when asked whether her government’s ERASE (Expect Respect and a Safe Education) Bullying measure provides schools with tools that will specifically address homophobia and transphobia.
“I think that’s the better, tighter way to go about it,” she said.
When Clark unveiled the ERASE Bullying initiative in Surrey in June last year, she noted that gay and lesbian kids are more bullied and more likely to commit suicide than other kids, and tackling homophobic bullying would be a “big part of the program.”
“What we’re doing with our program now is ensuring that every school district has a consistent approach to anti-bullying,” Clark said Feb 28. “If anyone is bullied on the basis of their sexual orientation, they will have access to the same protections that anyone else should have, because the program applies to anyone who is bullied.”
But NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert says students bullied for their sexual orientation face specific discrimination, warranting a specific anti-bullying program.
“We would address racism specifically, as we should; why should it be any different with homophobia or transphobia?” Chandra Herbert asks.
As education minister, Clark oversaw the 2003 Safe Schools Task Force.
“In nearly every community visited by the Safe Schools Task Force, no matter how large or small, individuals made presentations about the issue of harassment and intimidation based on sexual orientation,” the report notes.
“Many gay and lesbian youth told us that they dreaded coming to school,” it adds.
Clark said that needed to change.
“Homophobic bullying is the number-one form of it, so, yes, they have to make sure that’s part of what they’re targeting when they target bullies,” she said while running for the leadership of the BC Liberal Party two years ago.
“If I become premier, one of the very clear directives I am going give to the education minister is ‘I want you to deal with bullying in schools as a top priority,’” she told Xtra as she courted the gay community, at The Oasis on Davie Street, in 2011.
“Since getting elected she has shown zero attention to that top priority,” Chandra Herbert told Xtra, adding, “she’s just continuing that track record.”
Yesterday, Clark marked Pink Shirt Day by announcing grants for school-led, anti-bullying efforts across BC, including a $15,000 grant to Point Grey Secondary School.
The grants are being awarded to 81 projects benefiting from $1 million from civil forfeiture proceeds. The projects are aimed at combating bullying, youth crime, violence against women and family violence, human trafficking and sexual exploitation, and community crime, as well as for police training and equipment. The balance of these grants will be announced in the weeks ahead, once all recipients have been notified.
But none of the initiatives outlined in the province’s press release refers to queer-focused anti-bullying programs or policies.
“We need more than just saying, ‘Don’t be a bully,’” Chandra Herbert says.
“We pat ourselves on the back for addressing bullying, but we don’t get to the systemic issues,” Glen Hansman, of the BC Teachers Federation, adds.
Hansman says that while ERASE Bullying has some good initiatives, it “glosses over” the issue of how to specifically address homophobia and transphobia.
While Lower Mainland school districts having been working to implement strategies to combat homophobia and transphobia, more must be done to reach the province’s more rural districts, he observes.
Ross Johnstone, director of education at Out in Schools, agrees.
“The fact that this government is focused on making bullying a priority is a good first step. But it’s disappointing that at this stage there doesn’t seem to be LGBT components or anti-homophobia addressed,” he says.
Twenty out of 60 school districts now have stand-alone anti-homophobia policies.