The scope of a proposed Pride parade to protest the pulling of the provincially-approved Social Justice 12 course from Abbotsford schools has broadened into a social justice march now scheduled for Dec 6.
The march, which was granted a limited city permit allowing participants to move along sidewalks only, will leave from Abbotsford Community Services on Montrose St at 11 am.
Abbotsford Collegiate student Chantell Gregg, 16, who originally called for and began organizing a Pride parade last month after the Abbotsford school board withdrew the course pending a board review, says there was too much opposition and not enough support for a Pride parade.
“There just wasn’t enough [support] from the school council or the city or anything, so we just decided to call it the social justice rally to include all types of discrimination to make it more Abbotsford-friendly —if you wish to call it that —so we would gain more support,” Gregg explains.
Event co-organizer John Kuipers, president of the University of the Fraser Valley’s Pride Society, says the decision to broaden Gregg’s original idea for a Pride parade into a social justice rally came after meeting with his society’s executive and other university students.
“We decided to take a public stand for equality and diversity education with regards to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, gender, socio-economic status, disability —all sorts of forms of diversity,” says Kuipers.
“The second point that we’re taking a stand for is the right to access uncensored education,” he continues, “and that’s particularly important in our community since the cancellation of Social Justice 12.
“It’s our right to be taught courses prescribed by the ministry of education without having them modified or unjustly removed by the local school board,” Kuipers insists.
“The third one that we’re standing for is making the community aware of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and the right that we have as citizens to be free of discrimination, and also being able to learn and develop in a non-judgmental and safe environment,” Kuipers adds.
Asked if broadening the scope of the parade risks watering it down, Kuipers says he doesn’t think the rally’s message will be diluted at all.
“I think it enhances it just to be able to get more community support and to get more education around the fact that when we’re talking about issues of diversity and equality and human rights and accessing uncensored education —that is all the course material of the Social Justice 12,” he says. “These are all big social problems that we have here in Abbotsford, being a very rightwing conservative community.”
“Abbotsford’s long held a belief that there are no gay people in Abbotsford,” says Fraser Valley Youth Society president Loretta Hughes. “What Chantell wants to say is, ‘Hello? Yes, there are lots of gay kids in the school and lots of gay adults in Abbotsford. We are here, we live here, and we’re being hurt by people spewing because they think it doesn’t matter.'”
Not everyone should have to move to Vancouver because they’re gay, Hughes says.
“I think we should be able to stay in our own communities and make it work.”
Chris Meyer, a Grade 10 student at Abbotsford Collegiate, knows what it’s like to be on the receiving end of homophobic bullying at school. He says he’s been physically harassed and had anti-gay slurs aimed at him in three separate incidents at school over the last few months.
Meyer says he was in a group of two or three friends talking when a Grade 11 student came up behind him, spun him around and slammed him against a wall.
“I smacked my head against the cement and I was bleeding a little,” Meyer recalls. “My friends were like, ‘Leave him alone’ and pushed him off.”
Meyer says the student called him a fag after the attack.
He says when he reported the incident to the school’s vice-principal, Patti Tebbitt, she allegedly suspended the student for two days.
Meyer says when he told Tebbitt that a two-day suspension was too short a punishment and that the student should be expelled, he himself was suspended for two days.
Xtra West’s attempts to reach Tebbitt proved unsuccessful up to press time.
Meyer says he now sees his alleged attacker at school from time to time and receives “dirty looks” from him.
“At this point, I’m kind of afraid and I am afraid he’s going to get his buddies after me,” says Meyer. “School is supposed to be a safe environment, but when I’m there I don’t feel safe.”
Meyer, 15, says he and his friend Gregg will speak at the rally together.
“I feel the school needs to step up for me and Chantell’s sake,” Meyer says. “Because we are different, it doesn’t mean [people can] treat us like garbage in school, where we’re trying to get a good education, or anywhere else.”
Support for the rally from within and outside of Abbotsford has been growing in the last few weeks.
A panel discussion following the Nov 27 screening of The Times of Harvey Milk in commemoration of the 30th anniversary of Milk’s assassination elicited strong support for the Abbotsford rally among audience members.
By the end of the discussion, the Vancouver Pride Society, The Centre and Out on Screen were coordinating transportation to Abbotsford for Vancouverites wanting to support Gregg and the rally.
“This is a struggling GBLT community,” says VPS president Ken Coolen. “Here’s a group who are where we were 30 years ago, struggling to be able to have the right to put on a march or a demonstration. Pride is a celebration, but before the celebration has to come the liberation.”
Kuipers says he hasn’t received any indication whether any of the Abbotsford school trustees will be in attendance.
“They are a very tough organization of people to try to get some sort of change,” says Kuipers. “They are very traditional, very conservative group of people. They still hold a majority even after the recent [civic] vote here in Abbotsford.”
Abbotsford school board communications spokesperson Dave Stephen says he’s not aware that any of the trustees are planning to attend the rally.
“The trustees will all be at the BC School Trustees’ Association academy that always goes on after an election, but I don’t know their individual plans.”
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