4 min

Safe schools for some

Mayencourt report fails community: activists

BROKEN PROMISE? Gay education activists say Lorne Mayencourt's safe schools report is a big disappointment. Its recommendations don't mention homophobia. Mayencourt chaired the committee, which also included MLAs Brenda Locke and Wendy McMahon. Credit: Robin Perelle

It’s a huge disappointment, say gay education activists, pointing to Lorne Mayencourt’s new safe- schools report.

After almost a year of research, hearings, high hopes and delays, the gay MLA from Vancouver-Burrard who promised to take on homophobia in BC’s schools finally released his task force’s report Jun 11.

And the result has left gay education activists shaking their heads across the province.

“It’s so disappointing,” says Steve LeBel, from BC’s Gay and Lesbian Educators (GALE). The report’s recommendations don’t go far enough. “I think they’re wishy-washy.”

Shawn Peters agrees. The Youthquest Prince George chair is still putting the finishing touches on his own report addressing school safety in northern BC. “Our recommendations will hopefully be a lot more concrete,” he says.

He, too, thinks the task force’s recommendations are weak-and he’s not sure they’ll help queer students at all. “Their recommendations should have been stronger and more direct,” he sighs.

The task force’s seven recommendations focus primarily on encouraging schools to review and amend their own bullying policies, and to share their findings amongst themselves. They also recommend that schools be required to report all bullying incidents publicly. But they don’t give the schools any standard anti-harassment guidelines to implement.

And they don’t mention homophobia at all.

That’s a problem, says LeBel. He was counting on the ministry of education to take the lead and direct schools to address homophobia head on.

The ministry has to set the tone on this issue because “the leadership in some districts just don’t get it,” LeBel explains. “They don’t think it’s an issue and they don’t want to talk about it.”

If the ministry just leaves it up to individual districts to review and amend their own policies-without giving them firm guidelines for anti-bullying policies that specifically address homophobic bullying-then some districts will keep ignoring the problem, he warns.

Homophobia is still not widely enough understood in this society, LeBel explains. “There’s less of a consensus that bullying around sexual orientation is wrong.” Until there’s a consensus that it is wrong, it’s important “to name it and target it as a problem specifically.”

Peters agrees. Homophobia is one of the main forms of bullying, he says.

If you want to stop the bullying, you have to tackle its roots head-on. If students learn that it’s okay to be different or queer they might stop bullying-or at least allowing others to bully. But first you have to identify the roots.

Mayencourt used to agree. Last July, when he first launched the task force, he told Xtra West that he would like to see every school in BC introduce new harassment policies that specifically address homophobia.

It’s not enough to just talk about harassment in general terms, he said at the time; homophobic harassment needs to be cited specifically.

And if schools balked at the idea of directly addressing homophobia, Mayencourt said he would ask the government to introduce legislation forcing them to comply.

Fast-forward almost a year. Mayencourt’s recommendations don’t mention homophobia at all.

“Either the task force or the Liberal government watered [those recommendations] down,” LeBel says.

Granted, the report does a good job of acknowledging the existence of homophobia in BC schools, LeBel and Peters both point out. On page 12, for instance, it says: “In nearly every community visited by the Safe Schools Task Force, no matter how large and small, individuals made presentations about the issue of harassment and intimidation based on sexual orientation.”

And on page 19, the report notes that teachers who have tried to raise the issue of homophobia in their schools, by bringing in guest speakers or starting gay-straight alliances, have faced resistance from other teachers, school boards, parents and students.

The report even goes so far as to say that a “province-wide approach” may be necessary to deal with these problems because the “implementation of programs to promote responsible behaviour across the province is inconsistent.”

But none of these observations are reflected in the report’s recommendations.

And that’s tragic, says Jim Deva, of Little Sister’s fame. Deva made a point of attending the task force’s Coquitlam press conference introducing the report. What he heard left him close to tears.

Mayencourt has failed the gay community-and particularly its most vulnerable young members, Deva says. “It’s our duty and our obligation as gay and lesbian people to make sure our students are safe.”

Mayencourt had the opportunity to make their lives safer and he blew it, Deva continues. “He had the potential of addressing the problem. He had the knowledge, the passion, the community support. It can’t be forgiven.”

Mayencourt says he didn’t fail. The task force mentions homophobia many times in its report, he points out.

When asked why none of the recommendations contain clear guidelines for addressing homophobia, Mayencourt points to part two of the first recommendation, which says all bullying policies must be consistent with the BC Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights.

That’s not good enough, says Peters. “[That] just says we should follow the codes. Well, we’re supposed to follow those anyhow,” he says.

Mayencourt pauses when asked how he responds to the disappointment. “I don’t expect that everyone is going to love my report,” he replies. “But it does deal with homophobia, as it does with all the other isms.”

LeBel was hoping for more concrete measures. The task force should have called for some kind of standard, anti-bullying policy that schools would have to implement across the province, he maintains. It wouldn’t have to infringe on schools’ autonomy; they could all tailor it to fit their needs. But at least the minimum requirements would be in place, he says.

Peters had a specific program in mind. He was hoping the task force would tell all schools to implement mandatory diversity-training courses for students, to teach them why bullying people for being different is wrong. It all begins with changing attitudes and showing people why homophobia is unacceptable, he says.

Now it’s up to the Ministry of Education to turn the task force’s recommendations into law-or to go out on a limb and introduce more direct measures.

The ministry has to show some leadership, LeBel repeats.

Education Minister Christy Clark says she will study the report over the summer and introduce some kind of legislation this fall.

MLA Lorne Mayencourt:


Education Minister Christy Clark: