You know, it’s really tough for a provincial government to tackle homophobia and its attendant violence in the school system. After all, the NDP government of Glen Clark-which was so gay-friendly in other ways-lacked the courage to upset the fundies, social conservatives and outright loonies that could be expected to resist efforts to make schools safe for homo kids.
But our community had a secret weapon in Lorne Mayencourt, the freshly elected gay Liberal MLA for the West End. Lorne himself had been gay-bashed. When he spoke of anti-gay violence, he was able to draw on genuine emotion from personal experience. He was eloquent and elegant when discussing the issue. And after Aaron Webster was killed, he had the backing of the gay community and an opportunity to bring that political capital to the Liberal caucus and to the safe schools task force which he chaired.
Mayencourt clearly understands the roots of school bullying in homophobia, racism and other discriminations. In July, 2002, he told us that as chair of the task force he would like to see every school district in BC introduce new harassment policies that specifically include homophobic harassment. And if they refuse, he said, he would be forced to introduce legislation to make it mandatory.
I’d like to think we all had high hopes for Mayencourt. Faith in his visceral understanding of the issue. Faith in his ability to deliver something so important to our community. I know I had high hopes; when some in our community predicted Mayencourt would fail, I pointed to his personal experience and to his people skills and predicted he could pull it off.
Sadly, folks, we were wrong. He couldn’t pull it off. He failed our community.
And now teacher activist James Chamberlain is calling for Mayencourt’s resignation as MLA. Mayencourt is not returning Xtra West’s calls seeking his side of the story. This guy goes deeper into hiding within our community as each month goes by. Does he have access to polls about his popularity in Vancouver-Burrard riding that the rest of us don’t have?
I’m still left shaking my head, wondering what happened to his safe schools task force. Did the Premier’s Office or the bureaucracy within the ministry of education slice and dice the task force’s recommendations until there was nothing left unpalatable to social conservatives and parent activists in places like Fort St John?
Certainly, there was criticism of their final report presented to the public last June. But some activists recognized there was one final chance for the BC Liberal government to include mandatory anti-homophobia programs in schools while they drafted the final version of standards and guidelines.
These activists held out hope that the voice of the gay community, our almost unanimous demand for real changes in the schools, would be heard. Sadly, it wasn’t.
Premier Gordon Campbell himself announced the final version of standards and guidelines on Mar 22. The result is “appalling,” says James Chamberlain, probably our top expert activist.
Schools get to write their own codes of conduct. Programs to directly address homophobia are not mandatory.
Jane Bouey, a bisexual trustee of the Vancouver School Board, says that the results won’t motivate schools to address homophobia unless they already intended to do so. So far, only Vancouver and Victoria have extensive policies. The youth most at risk-those growing up gay in Surrey and Abbotsford, Osoyoos and Fort St John, on-reserve and off-reserve-have not been thrown a lifeline by the provincial Liberals and Lorne Mayencourt.
Shame. I really thought he might do it.
How many more of our youth-that’s right: our youth-have to die or get beaten up?
Congratulations to the Vancouver Pride Society on their high-energy lineup for this year. After all they’d been through, I’m sure our community would understand if they wanted to take a year to consolidate. Instead, they’ve come up with a chock-full schedule of brand-new events, including outdoor concerts, a breakfast in Nelson Park, and the return of Stonewall Festival to Grandview Park Jun 26 and a dance that same night. Wow! Such energy, such commitment.
Gareth Kirkby is Managing Editor for Xtra.