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Yukon: More than 250 to rally in support of queer-inclusive school policies

'It's almost everyone who wants this change': student

"This is not about an agenda or politics; it's about these two students, and I want to let them know that what's happening to them is absolutely wrong," says Klondike MLA and interim Liberal leader Sandy Silver, who used to teach high school math. Credit: Courtesy of Sandy Silver

A “sea of pink expression” will descend on the Yukon Legislative Assembly March 21 as queer Yukoners and their allies rally in support of LGBT-inclusive policies for all publicly funded Yukon schools.

The rally comes three weeks after Education Minister Scott Kent asked Bishop Gary Gordon of Whitehorse to remove a religious document from Vanier Catholic Secondary School’s website that refers to “homosexual orientation” as “intrinsically disordered” and “homosexual acts” as “acts of grave depravity.”

Klondike MLA and interim Liberal leader Sandy Silver is the only MLA who has confirmed his attendance at the rally, which coincides with the opening of the legislative session.

Silver says he is coming out to show his support for two queer youth who have recently spoken out against the bishop’s document, which is a policy in the Catholic diocese of Whitehorse. “This is the first rally I’ve attended outside the legislative assembly,” says Silver, who worked as a high school math teacher prior to his election. “This is not about an agenda or politics; it’s about these two students, and I want to let them know that what’s happening to them is absolutely wrong, and I’m so sorry as an educator in the system that they had to go through this, and I want to lend my support.”

Silver is referring to Liam Finnegan, a Grade 11 student at Vanier who successfully called for the document to be removed from the school’s website, and Shara Layne, a former Vanier student who says she withdrew from school after someone carved the word faggot into her locker and the administration failed to take action.

Following the rally, Silver intends to question Kent about his course of action. “He took the document down from the website,” he says. “But my question is — and before we lynch the poor guy — what was the intent of that request? Was the intent to bury this thing down the cellar or was the intent to show who was in charge of education? That question needs to be asked in the house, and we will get an answer for that.”

Stephen and Rob Dunbar-Edge, who successfully sued the Yukon government for a marriage licence in 2004, making same-sex marriage legal there, say they will also attend the rally to ensure that the Department of Education’s policy on gender identity and sexual orientation is upheld in all public schools.

“In the late ’60s, I went to Catholic schools for grades 1 and 2, but because of a variety of terrible things, my mom did pull me, and that was a hard thing for her to do because she was so Catholic,” says Stephen Dunbar-Edge.

There has been an evolution in Yukon’s Catholic schools, he adds. “But it seems like with this new bishop and this policy that they want to take a step backwards, and I as a taxpaying Yukoner have a problem with that.”

“They are using public money to discriminate against kids who might just be like me and tell them something is wrong with them, and there is not,” Dunbar-Edge says.  “We are in a time where that is simply unacceptable, and they can do it in a church if they want to, but they will not do it in my public school. And it is a public school if it’s publicly funded.

“They are going to have to figure out something because if [Gordon] insists on enforcing this policy, I say it’s time to cut our ties. He’s new to the Yukon, but these schools are not. He’s the newbie.”

More than 250 people have confirmed they will attend the rally, and Layne says this shows how much people in Whitehorse really do care about equality. “I would like the school and the church community to really think about how big of an issue this is, and with a rally it’s not just people who are gay, bi, trans and stuff like that,” she says. “It shows that more people think this is wrong. It’s not just three people; it’s almost everyone who wants this change.”

Andrea Simpson-Fowler, who owns a dance studio in Whitehorse, says she will be attending the rally because she does not want her tax dollars going to an institution that “promotes bigotry” and “violates human rights.”

“I don’t want it to be swept under the rug, and I think we need to keep the dialogue going,” she says. “My hope is that there is a referendum and they completely cut off public funding to Catholic schools. They are working on it in Ontario, and they already did it in Newfoundland. If we had a referendum here it would definitely go through.”