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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Public Interest, Policy Development and the Taxpayer

I applaud the Burnaby School Board for taking steps to protect the rights of children and staff in our schools to be protected from anti-gay slurs and bullying. Passing Policy 5.45 has been difficult for the trustees, and required courage and conviction. There is continuing protest by a group calling themselves Parents Voice, who oppose the Policy. This protest has taken the form of procedural challenges and accusations of a hidden gay agenda. Spokespeople for the Parents Voice claim that "sex activists" are seeking access to children to convert them to homosexuality. Some have suggested that, if Policy 5.45 goes forward, that in less than a century all children will choose same-sex relationships and there will be no more children. Others argue that if schools teach children to respect homosexuals, that it will mean contradicting what parents teach their children in the home (presumably, that homosexuals should not be respected).

Yesterday, George Kovacic of the group called the Parents Voice filed a complaint regarding the freedom of information request he made in April, 2011. The complaint was triggered by receipt of a copy of an email message sent by Betty Choi. However, it reflects a larger frustration with the school board's response.

The FOI request requests a broad spectrum of information, some of which is already in the public domain and freely available on the web site. Much of it seems to be a fishing expedition, designed to find evidence of a conspiracy, a hidden gay agenda, within the process by which the policy was developed. Reading between the lines, the FOI request arose after an acrimonious discussion, and is being carried forth in an aggressive and mean-spirited way. The School Board has already provided 5 free hours of staff time and $100 of photocopying at the taxpayers' expense. While some members of the public may be interested, this is not the same thing as being in the public interest. It is far from clear what public interest these notes will serve.

The timeline and process for the development of Policy 5.45 are available on the school board web page. Evidence that bullying and anti-gay slurs are pervasive within the burnaby school district can be found in reports such as Not Yet Equal. A summary of inputs to the Board regarding Policy 5.45 can be found in this document.

Non-heterosexual people are part of our community, and have the right to a safe and respectful learning environment. Children also need to learn to treat non-heterosexuals in their social groups with respect.

In the end, for me, it comes down to the human rights of children who experience anti-gay slurs and bullying. It comes down to the climate of hatred, ridicule and disrespect for different others. Being around name-calling and slurs is not good for the victims, and it is also not good for the bystanders. Being gay, or not conforming to gender norms and being called gay, should not expose children to name-calling and ridicule. Some children are simply miserable. But this misery can be so great that some children have committed suicide as a result of the homophobic bullying in our schools. We have a problem, and the School Board has finally taken steps to address it.

Some parents will undoubtedly continue to teach their children that those who love and long for people of the same sex do so as a misguided, sinful or sick "lifestyle choice". They will teach their children that a first marriage between a man and a woman is superior to all other relationships.

Although I believe in tolerance and strive to understand diversity, there are limits. Religious freedoms should not prevent human rights protections.

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