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Vancouver mayor declares Feb 29 Pink Shirt Day

BC premier pressed to act on homophobia in schools

Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson (left), with Vancouver School Board chair Patti Bacchus, declares Feb 29 Pink Shirt Day in the city. Credit: Jeremy Hainsworth

As Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson declared Feb 29 Pink Shirt Day in the city, the provincial NDP was calling on Premier Christy Clark’s government to institute a provincial policy to combat homophobic and transphobic bullying in the school system.

“Reducing and even eliminating bullying is a priority in our city,” Robertson said Feb 28 as he issued the proclamation. He said it was a goal of the Vancouver School Board (VSB) to create “safe and caring learning environments.”

Robertson made the proclamation flanked by VSB chair Patti Bacchus; Jen Schaeffers, executive director of the CKNW Orphans Fund, and Dave Teixeira, Pink Shirt Day online communications director.

“People use the word bullying to cover up what are really crimes — assault, harassment,” Teixeira said. “By wearing pink, we are saying to those who are bullying or those who are being bullied, ‘This stops here.'”

Bacchus noted that earlier in the day, members of the Vancouver District Students’ Council revealed they had sent a letter to Premier Christy Clark asking for a province-wide anti-homophobia and anti-transphobia harassment policy.

“They said this morning ‘We’re not only standing up, we’re speaking up,'” Bacchus said. “[Clark] needs to take a stand on behalf of these students,” she told Xtra. “Our students are showing leadership. The very least our politicians can do is respond by standing up and showing the same leadership and courage our students are showing today.”

She also revealed that the Vancouver school district would be putting online Feb 29 a Born This Way video made by students from across the Vancouver region in support of Pink Shirt Day.

NDP Vancouver-West End MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert followed up the student letter with one of his own Feb 28.

He noted Clark had “spoken passionately in favour of protecting LGBT youth in out schools from being bullied.” But, he noted, according to the province’s Independent Representative for Children and Youth, Mary-Ellen TurpeI-Lafond and the Pride Education Network, only 15 out of 60 BC school districts have anti-homophobia policies in place to protect queer students and their families from homophobic violence and discrimination.”

The education ministry has maintained that all 60 school districts reported having codes of conduct in place. In 2007, education activists were outraged at the BC Liberal government for passing what they considered to be toothless safe schools legislation that did nothing to specifically protect queer students from harassment. Though the legislation ordered all districts to implement codes of conduct compatible with the BC Human Rights Code, it stopped short of requiring specific language prohibiting anti-gay harassment.

“Clearly, students in our schools are being targeted by bullies for their sexuality and gender expression, and existing policies are not doing enough to protect them from verbal and physical harassment,” Chandra Herbert stated in his letter. “This Pink Shirt Day, please act in the spirit of the founders of this movement and bring in province-wide anti-homophobia policies for our schools that offer strong protections and educational supports for LGBT students.” The letter was endorsed by the Pride Education Network and gay-straight alliances or diversity groups in 14 schools from throughout the province, as well as the Vancouver District Students’ Council.

Clark’s office could not be reached for comment on either letter. She was, however, photographed with pink shirt-clad students on the steps of the Legislature as part of a flash mob.