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Settlement sought

Question mark hangs over long-awaited queer rights hearing

A question mark hangs over a human rights hearing that was expected to draw national attention to a gay couple’s complaint that BC schools discriminate against queers.

The BC human rights tribunal has set aside four weeks this summer-starting Jul 11-for a hearing into a complaint by Murray and Peter Corren that the province’s public school curriculum fails to address queer issues and is therefore guilty of discrimination by omission and suppression.

However, Murray Corren told Xtra West in a Jun 15 telephone interview that he and Peter have filed a settlement proposal with the Ministry of Education which could result in the public hearing being postponed or rendered moot.

The Correns, a married gay couple, say they have been advised by their lawyer not to provide details of their proposal at this time.

Ministry of Education communications officer Corinna Filion confirms that the ministry has received a submission from the Correns. “Currently, preliminary discussions are going on,” Filion told Xtra West Jun 21. Ministry officials are said to be waiting for direction from newly appointed Education Minister Shirley Bond regarding whether to accept or reject the Correns’ proposal.

The Correns say the matter is receiving priority attention because of the quickly approaching hearing date. And they say they have been encouraged to believe the proposal could provide the foundation for a prolonged, potentially fruitful negotiation process.

To date, the human rights tribunal has received no word of a possible change to the planned summer hearing involving the Correns. “As far as I know, it’s a go,” tribunal registrar Vikki Bell told Xtra West Jun 20.

The prospect of a lengthy public hearing on the omission of queer content in school curriculum sparked wide public comment over the past year.

The Vancouver Sun applauded the promised public discussion in a Dec 10 editorial under the headline, “Contributions by queers is a worthy subject for debate.”

The editorial continued: “Peter and Murray Corren should be commended for pushing the issue closer to centre stage, where it will command much attention when it comes before the BC human rights tribunal later this summer.”

But not everyone supports the Correns’ bid for curriculum inclusion.

Opponents of queer curriculum content include Derek Rogusky, vice-president of Focus on the Family Canada. “If we are going to be providing and promoting a curriculum that treats homosexuality as just a normal thing… we will be trampling on the religious freedoms of thousands of British Columbia families,” he told Canadian earlier this year.

Last April, the tribunal denied a Mission father’s bid to gain intervener status in the case. Daniel Plecas had hoped to argue that the complaint was furthering a gay rights crusade.

Murray and Peter Corren have fought for recognition of queer issues for nearly nine years. They say the public school curriculum should include queer history and historical figures, including positive queer role models-past and present-the contributions made by queers to various epochs, societies and civilizations, and legal issues relating to queers such as same-sex marriage and adoption.

Queer educators support the Correns’ claim that omission is a form of repression.

A school resource guide developed by the Gay and Lesbian Educators of BC and endorsed and distributed to schools by the BC Teachers’ Federation, urges teachers to: incorporate same-sex and transgendered issues throughout the curriculum at all grade levels; talk about famous lesbians, gays and bisexuals; bring speakers into schools to talk about homosexuality; have zero tolerance for name calling, harassment and teasing; and treat homophobia as seriously as racism or sexism.

The Correns had asked the education ministry to add sexual orientation and gender identity to a list of issues it created in the mid-1990s meant to ensure the curriculum was inclusive of all students. The list had included gender equality, multiculturalism and special needs.

The ministry dropped the list in 2000 but the Correns believe something like it should be reinstated.