About 100 youth braved the chill wind and snow to don pink shirts, unfurl banners and publicly denounce bullying in Vancouver’s downtown core for Pink Shirt Day on Feb 29.
The annual rally came a day after the Vancouver District Students’ Council called on Premier Christy Clark to implement a province-wide anti-homophobia policy in schools.
When pressed, Clark promised to deal with the issue in the current session of the legislature.
“I promise the member this,” she replied to a question from MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert on Feb 28, “we will work with him to make sure that we bring in the best legislation, the best policy, the best methods we possibly can for addressing this issue in workplaces, in schools and in homes for all people across British Columbia.”
Clark told the legislature she has heard the stories of homophobic bullying and that the government is “working very hard on addressing this issue.”
“I can tell you stories about grieving mothers whose children have jumped off bridges because they were called gay, and they were bullied and persecuted at school relentlessly,” Clark told the House.
“I can tell you stories of little girls who went to school from the time they were in kindergarten till the time they were in Grade 10, who had words written on their gym strip, who had their clothes thrown in the garbage, who had no one to eat lunch with every single day,” Clark said.
It’s not the first time Clark has promised to make anti-bullying a priority.
“If I become premier, one of the very clear directives I am going give to the education minister is I want you to deal with bullying in schools as a top priority,” Clark told Xtra as she courted the gay vote at The Oasis on Davie St on Jan 8, 2011.
“I think school districts have to fight every kind of bullying that’s out there. Homophobic bullying is the number one form of it, so, yes, they have to make sure that’s part of what they’re targeting when they target bullies,” Clark said, while running for the leadership of the BC Liberal Party.
Chandra Herbert has repeatedly pressed the premier on what her pledge actually means.
“It’s a concern that she has been expressing since she was Minister of Education when she brought in a policy that contained zero recommendations to help gay, lesbian, bi and trans students, despite the fact that in the report it said that that was one of the top issues,” Chandra Herbert reminded the legislature on Feb 28.
“In January, last year, the premier claimed that homophobic bullying — and addressing it — would be a top priority. She would get her education minister to get right on it. Well, when I did a freedom-of-information request for all the work that was done last year, what did I get? Four blank pages. That’s it. That’s this sum total of this government’s work on this issue.
“So my question is to the premier. When will she stop just expressing concern, and when will she, now that she’s premier and has been premier for over a year, actually do something about it? Our kids are counting on us.”
Responded Clark: “We will be taking action on this, as I promised, in this, our second session of the legislature since I’ve been premier. We will be doing that this session.”
The impact of homophobic bullying was not lost on the kids carrying banners and selling buttons for Pink Shirt Day at Georgia and Granville Sts.
Asked what he thinks of the phrase “that’s so gay,” Mount Pleasant Elementary student BJ Gatarin says, “It’s pretty bad. It might offend gay people. They might commit suicide.”
Clark had planned to be in Vancouver for the awareness event at Georgia and Granville Sts but had to remain in Victoria to deal with legislation before the House.
“She’s very devastated; this is her baby,” says Jen Schaeffers of the CKNW Orphans’ Fund, which raises money through Pink Shirt Day for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Vancouver. Clark adopted Pink Shirt Day while hosting a radio show on CKNW, after two Grade 12 students in Nova Scotia launched the initiative to protest bullying in 2007.