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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Presentation to the Burnaby School Board on Policy 5.45

Thank you for the opportunity to speak on this topic tonight.

Two weeks ago when I first learned of the protests against draft Policy 5.45, I created a Facebook group, and a Facebook page, both called the Burnaby Parents' Gay/Straight Alliance. In addition to writing directly to the board, I also encourage all parents who support this policy to use the Facebook page to show your support and be visible.

However, let me be clear that I do not speak for other parents who have joined the Facebook group. I speak for myself, as a parent of a child in a Burnaby school. I speak as a Canadian-born child of immigrants. I speak as a scientist. I am also a person of faith. And I support Policy 5.45.

As a scientist, one thing I can offer is help finding and understanding the evidence about homosexuality and bullying based on real or perceived sexual orientation. I have also spoken to a colleague, Dr. Elizabeth Saewyc, who is an expert on adolescent sexual development, and she is willing to come to speak to parents and to answer questions.

The more I learn, the more I realize how long overdue this policy is. I am learning that the expression "that's so gay" is pervasive in Burnaby student culture. I am learning that many children are harassed bullied and teased on a daily basis. I am learning that a shocking number of these children take their own lives. I am also learning that many of the children who have taken their own lives were straight children who were singled out, targeted, labelled, and bullied to their deaths.

I have also been shocked to learn that Aaron Webster’s killers came from Burnaby. For those who may not have heard this story, ten years ago, four young men got in a car for some recreational gay-bashing. They drove to Stanley Park, found a gay man, and beat him to death with baseball bats. These young men were a product of Burnaby schools. Why was a policy not put in place then?

The rights of gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgendered people to be protected from discrimination and bullying is protected under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which was enacted about thirty years ago.

Four years ago a judge found that school boards were required to pass policies of this type. With our history, and with a clear need for this type of protection for LGBTQ youth, what I honestly do not understand is why this policy is not already in place. I urge the Burnaby School Board to pass this policy, and then to follow the lead of the Vancouver School Board in putting resources in place to improve the school environment.

I would also like to speak to all of the parents who are here. While it may look like we are on opposite sides, I want to recognize that we are all here out of a deep commitment to doing the right thing for our children. And I would like to say that it is possible to be a committed person of faith and to raise your children to have values that are not taught in the classroom.

This can be uncomfortable and difficult. As parents we need to talk more among one another about the challenges of living in a country that respects and tolerates diversity, but that protects the human rights of everyone.

I myself am a Quaker, and my faith leads me to take a strong position of non-violence. The bible says, “Thou shalt not kill.” Jesus offered the most profound example of non-violence in giving his life without fighting, and chastising Peter for using violence in his defence. Nonetheless, I recognize that my daughter shares the classroom with children who do not share this view, and who may come from military families. I also know that she will be taught that warfare is an acceptable way for countries to resolve conflicts. As a Canadian, I need to be able to speak my truth, while allowing others to have their own, sometimes different, beliefs. And this is a challenge I share with many other families, be they Sikh, Moslem, vegetarians, and even atheists.

Last weekend I gathered with my faith community. I would like to close by reading a minute from that gathering in support of this policy:

Western Half-Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) encourages and supports the Burnaby Board of Education in its work of developing policy that makes schools inclusive and safe for all students. In particular, we strongly support the Burnaby Board’s current efforts to develop and implement policy 5.45, the goal of which is, in the Board’s words, “to ensure that all members of the school community learn to work together in an atmosphere of respect and safety free from homophobia, transphobia, anti-gay harassment and/or exclusion regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.” We hold you in the Light as you work toward honouring and protecting the civil rights of all students.

Thank you.

Christine Hitchcock, Burnaby, BC
May 24, 2011.


  1. Dear Chris,
    I am moved by your submission to the Bby School Board, and feel gratitude for your witness in this very important issue.
    Thank you for stepping up!
    Warm regards,

  2. Amen. Even people who think homosexuality is sinful and should be discouraged ought to agree that teasing and bullying are cruel antisocial behaviors that need to be stopped. It's hard to imagine a reasonable objection to 5.45.

  3. perfectly said/written! thank you!

    jane ess gee (on fb)

  4. Thanks Chris for speaking out. Courage.