Vancouver
3 min

Vicious vitriol swamps meeting

Anti-gay remarks by visible minorities

AGE APPROPRIATE: 'Homophobic name-calling can only be eradicated through education, not silence and censorship,' Kindergarten teacher James Chamberlain told a Surrey School Board hearing Jun 3. 'We discuss racism in an age-appropriate way. This issue could be handled in exactly the same manner.' Credit: Tom Bowen

“None of you can honestly say your child is not gay,” Stephan Burri told more than 130 people attending a Surrey School Board hearing Jun 3 on the controversial use of three books on same-sex families in elementary schools.



Burri is a queer father of two girls with lesbian mothers. He told the board his children were taught that their family was not normal due to the school board’s past decision to refuse use of the books in the curriculum. Now, those innocent children are victimized, Burri said.



The spokesperson for Egale says the absence of information about same sex families reinforces the antiquated belief that only heterosexuality is normal.



“Last night was certainly the most concentrated three hours of hatred I have experienced in my life,” he said the day after the meeting.



Despite Burri’s plea, most speakers in a room packed with visible minorities called for the repression of the invisible queer minority.



Last December, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the board was wrong when it refused to allow the books-Asha’s Mum, Belinda’s Bouquet, and One Dad, Two Dads, Brown Dad, Blue Dads-to be used as teaching resources. None of the books deals overtly with sexual issues.



Speakers against allowing the books in schools identified themselves as Catholic, Hindu, Sikh and Muslim. Arguing that allowing the books was an attack on their faiths and cultures, speaker after speaker said the Supreme Court was wrong in saying the books could not be banned on religious grounds.



For board chair Mary Polak, the end of the tightrope the board has walked for six years is nowhere in sight.



She says each book must be voted on individually and, as board members are not allowed to discuss the issue among themselves, she has no idea where the vote may go. And with tempers high on both sides, no matter what happens, the issue will likely end up in court again.



“You know you’re walking into legal wrangling no matter what happens,” Polak says. “It’s a little nerve-wracking. I hope at the end of the day, people broaden their perspectives.”



The at-times identical vitirolic, homophobic speeches of the family values crowd were countered by queer parents and teachers who asked for equality and an end to bullying and violence.



Kim Forster, the queer mother of two, said her children have learned not to tell the truth about their families and to create fantasy families to meet social expectations.



“No child should be put in this position of terror,” she said. “This board must act in a way that promotes tolerance for all the groups it serves.”



Queer teacher James Chamberlain has spearheaded the effort to have the books as learning resources. He asked the board to heal hate-created wounds.



“Homophobic name-calling can only be eradicated through education, not silence and censorship,” he said. “We discuss racism in an age-appropriate way. This issue could be handled in exactly the same manner.”



He said scarce school funds should be spent on resources rather than continued litigation.



The verbal assault on queers continued unabated.



Pavel Reid, director of the Office for Family and Life for the Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver-which has its own schools-said inclusiveness in schools would mean people would have to check their beliefs at the door of secular schools. That does not promote tolerance, he said.



Several speakers went as far as to say the attempt to portray same-sex families in a positive light in the classroom was part of the militant homosexual agenda and would cause erosion of the family.



“Human morals are at stake,” shouted Raj Puri of the Vedic Hindu Cultural Society of Surrey. “This is not for one person or one religion or one culture but the entire humanity. We must save ourselves from this vice.”



To a crowd containing several highly-educated queers, Puri said no sane person would ever think of engaging in homosexuality.



“In days not far off, these lesbian people will come and say … ‘I want to perform a marriage with a cow.”



Surrey realtor Joe Pal, said the move to get the books into classrooms is part of the militant homosexual agenda. He said it is being championed by the former NDP government, the BC Teachers Federation, Egale and the Surrey Teachers Association. He called the groups anti-Western Civilization as Surrey residents from a rainbow of cultures looked on.



Pal accused homosexuals of wanting to use the books to recruit children.



Pal admitted he had not read the books but nonetheless characterized them as shameful and targeting the helpless.



At several points in the meeting, Polak admonished people for heckling or clapping for speakers. At one point, she cleared the room to identify several people who had clapped to ask them to leave.