Lorne Mayencourt wants us to believe “we’ve won a victory” with his government’s new safe schools act.
The act will make it mandatory for every school district in BC to implement a code of conduct. The problem is, it doesn’t specify what those codes should say or what kinds of conduct they will prohibit. In fact it doesn’t say much at all.
“One of the flaws in our system has always been that the province has never required that school districts put in a code of conduct. That’s the key,” Mayencourt explained to the BC legislature, May 15.
“This one little move, changing it from ‘may’ [implement a code of conduct] to ‘should’ [implement a code of conduct] is huge,” the gay MLA continued. “It’s huge. There’s no way around it.”
Huge? I waited six years for this? For a baby step that should have been taken years ago to be tied up in a big ribbon and passed off as a victory?
You’ve got to be kidding.
Mayencourt has been talking about making our schools safer for queer youth since he launched the Safe Schools Task Force in 2002. Back then he told me he wanted to see every school in BC introduce new harassment policies explicitly addressing homophobia. It’s not enough to just talk about harassment in general terms, he said. Homophobic harassment needs to be cited specifically.
The NDP tried to do just that, May 15, when the Liberals, having stripped the substance out of Mayencourt’s earlier private member’s bill, brought their own mandatory-but-vague-codes up for third reading.
The NDP introduced an amendment to make the codes explicitly protect students from homophobic bullying.
All the Liberals voted against it.
“The amendment talks to homophobia. It’s not enough. It isn’t just homophobia. There is racism; there is sexism; there are religionisms; and there is ageism. Every kind of ism you can think of under the sun is there. So I can’t support that particular amendment,” Mayencourt said before casting his nay.
Wait a minute. Are you telling me that just because other forms of harassment exist, you passed up the chance to explicitly prohibit the very type of harassment you’ve been promising to address for years?
Have you lost your mind?
Granted, Mayencourt did go on to stand alone among Liberals to support the NDP’s second amendment, which tried to at least tie the new codes to the BC Human Rights Code. (The education minister rejected that one on the basis that more “discussion” is needed.)
And Mayencourt’s private member’s bill, which ostensibly inspired this whole exercise, would have explicitly named homophobia and included it in a list of prohibited forms of harassment in each code.
“The urgency is because of kids. I don’t want to see another kid jump off a bridge because someone called him a fag,” Mayencourt told Xtra West when he introduced his private member’s bill last April.
At the time, he wasn’t sure how well the bill would go over with his government. “I don’t want to be pessimistic, but this is a stronger bill. It says much more direct things. So it might be hard for some of our members to vote for it,” he said.
“I don’t think there’s homophobia in the caucus,” he added. “But I do know that there is homophobia in the caucus’ constituencies.”
Still, he promised not to water-down the bill’s principles.
“The [education] ministry should not remain silent. The ministry should stand up for kids and make sure they are safe in schools,” he said in January.
Two months later, the Liberals adopted Mayencourt’s bill but dropped its substance—including all references to sexual orientation.
Mayencourt rallied, insisting that just making the codes mandatory is “a fairly big step forward.”
“Lorne Mayencourt is an abject failure,” countered queer education activist Jane Bouey. “He wasn’t able to convince the BC Liberals to support the barest possible support for queer youth in schools after six years of trying.”
Mayencourt swears he hasn’t lost yet. The new codes will have to comply with provincial standards, he says, and he’s going to help set them. He’ll get sexual orientation in there, he promises.
Thanks Lorne. Can I get that in writing?