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Sooke is 15th BC school district to approve gay-friendly policy

There were no parental objections: superintendent

Vancouver Island’s Sooke school district board unanimously passed an anti-homophobia policy in a first reading on Oct 25.

“It’s an official policy of the board,” School District 62 superintendent Jim Cambridge tells Xtra. “We’re very happy about it.”

Susan Lambert, the president of the BC Teachers’ Federation, tells Xtra the policy’s passage makes the district the 15th in the province to have a specific policy, although nothing exists at the provincial level. She says it will go a long way toward protecting “our students who are often the subject of very violent bullying.” Lambert says such policies need to be in “100 percent” of the province’s districts. “It’s far too slow, and children are committing suicide.”

The policy says the board wanted to ensure that school environments are welcoming, inclusive and affirming and that such a policy was in keeping with the Canadian Human Rights Act, the British Columbia Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom.

It recognizes that “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, two-spirit, intersex, queer or questioning [LGBTTIQQ] face a unique set of challenges within our schools and communities.” Sexual minority groups, or those perceived to be members of these groups, are “frequently the targets of homophobic, transphobic or heterosexist behaviours,” the policy states.

Those behaviours often have “profound social consequences, including discrimination, harassment, physical and sexual violence, social and emotional isolation, substance abuse, homelessness, school truancy and drop-out, self-harm and suicide,” it notes.

The policy says the board will promote a safe environment, free from harassment and discrimination, by implementing proactive strategies and guidelines to ensure that queer students, employees and families are equally welcomed and included in all aspects of education and school life and treated with respect and dignity.

Further, it says, “any language or behaviour that degrades, denigrates, stereotypes, incites hatred or fear, prejudice, discrimination, harassment toward individuals on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identification will not be tolerated. School codes of conduct will include the prohibition of such language and behaviour.”

Administrative regulations have been created for increasing awareness of the impact and scope against queer students and staff, for schools to provide support for queer youth and for those with knowledge of creating such supportive practices to be invited to share them with school staffs.

As well, age-appropriate materials and resources will be made available to promote knowledge and eliminate discrimination, the regulations say.

Sooke Teachers’ Association president Patrick Henry says the passage of the policy represents a renewed emphasis on protecting all members of the school community from discrimination. With the emotional suffering and lives lost due to bullying and exclusion, he hopes other districts will also act to pass such policies.

Cambridge says Henry raised the issue, as well as a policy to deal with it, two years ago. “It was a compelling case. He told us stories of individual students who have been oppressed. Obviously, those of us who care about children and youth felt something had to be done,” he recalls.

The superintendent says a committee of teachers, principals, vice-principals and parents was formed to create a policy. “We did some educational meetings with the community and with our staff as well,” he adds.

There were no parental objections to the policy, Cambridge notes, adding, “I’m not sure why we would.”

Most of the other 14 district policies specifying homophobic bullying and discrimination have passed without controversy. The notable exception is Burnaby, where a similar policy, passed earlier this year, met with vocal protests and even an appeal to Premier Christy Clark, who said it was a board decision. Members of Parents’ Voice, which opposed the Burnaby policy, are now running for school board in local elections.

In a letter to two Burnaby newspapers sent Oct 30, Henry suggested the opposition has “more sinister underpinnings.”

“The picture that some of us living outside of Burnaby are seeing is that of a community divided on the issue of tolerance,” Henry writes. “One of the core values we must share in whichever community we find ourselves in this country is the value we place on the protection of our young people. It is bewildering, and a bit disturbing, that there are people in the world who would oppose efforts to protect young people in our schools from being discriminated against for their innate, unalterable differences, whatever those differences may be.”