Ontario passes Anti-Homophobia Law, BC next?

Today’s good news is that the Ontario Liberals and NDP cooperated long enough to pass anti-bullying legislation which specifically supports gay rights.

Furthermore, the bill forces Ontario’s publicly funded Catholic schools to permit students to form Gay Straight Alliances.

While those Catholic schools will continue to receive public money, some of which force students to endorse anti-choice petitions, it is a step in the right direction to ensure that LGBTQ students in the Catholic system enjoy the same rights as their secular school peers.

With any luck, BC’s coming anti-bullying legislation, promised by premier Christy Clark, will aim for the bar set by Ontario.

Stand against homophobia on the Vancouver School Board

Robin Perelle, writing for Xtra!, gives a good background on the swell of opposition to anti-homophobia policy in the lower mainland.

Basically, NPA trustees Ken Denike and Sophia Woo have been caught red-handed in videos lying to the Christian Social Concern Fellowship that Vancouver has no anti-homophobia policy, when in fact one was passed in 2004. They’ve also been trotting out the “parent’s rights” arguments, long used by the Christian Right who want the right to continue to keep their children as ignorant and biggoted as themselves.

Vancouver’s LGBTQ community isn’t taking this one lying down.

On Monday evening, the first Vancouver School Board meeting was held and a resolution was put forward calling on the VSB to reaffirm its support for the policy and to censure trutees Denike and Woo. The resolution passed with the strong Vision-COPE majority but the crowd was split between pro- and anti-gay protesters.

There is now a Facebook call for people to send letters to Denike, Woo, and VSB chair Patti Bacchus, calling for the NPA trustees to resign. Please consider sending this message (or a modified version) to the emails listed below.

Dear Trustees Woo and Denike,

You have failed in your position within the Vancouver School Board. You have infracted and abused your powers and position, and have tried to spread hate within our society.

-You have made many students feel unsafe and uncomfortable within their schools.
-Publicly disagreed with the ‘Anti Homophobia Policies’ that were put in place by VSB (2004)
-Accused the ‘Out in Schools’ program for showing pornographic images.
-Are closely related and in support with the Parents Voice Committee, Who are known for their Anti-Homosexual campaigns.

I do not support your actions and views on this issue. The messages you and your groups are spreading are inhumane and dishonest. I do not want people in my city to feel unsafe or unwanted, Vancouver is meant to be a city that accepts differences and respects culture and diversity.

Because of these actions you have taken, I am asking you to resign from your position as Trustee as you have failed to protect all the students within the school board.


Christy Clark’s staff respond to homophobic bullying

5 days ago I sent a form letter to Christy Clark, as my MLA, asking her to address homophobic bullying in BC schools.

Dear Christy Clark, Premier and MLA,
I am writing this message in the interest of protecting the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth in the province of British Columbia.
Recently calls have come from across the province for an explicit provincial policy to offer protection for all students from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. These calls have come from the British Columbia Teachers Federation, the City of Vancouver, the Vancouver School Board, the Representative of Children and Youth, and grassroots activists meeting with the Minister of Education through the Purple Letter Campaign. These calls have come as a result of a year of highly publicized youth suicides across North America, including several in Canada. While this is not a new issue, attention is being paid that was not in the past.
In Canada research done by EGALE recently noted that this homophobia and transphobia are pandemic in our schools. 70% of all participating students, LGBT and non-LGBT, reported hearing expressions such as “that’s so gay” every day in school and almost half (48%) reported hearing remarks such as “faggot,” “lezbo,” and “dyke” every day in school. More than one in five (21%) LGBT students reported being physically harassed or assaulted due to their sexual orientation.
Recently Quebec introduced legislation titled "Plan d’action gouvernemental de lutte contre l’homophobie" which includes explicit policies, funding for anti-homophobia initiatives and a provincial research chair on homophobia. In Ontario the government has introduced legislation calling for explicit policies, enforcement and the creation of support networks within schools through Gay Straight Alliances or similarly themed clubs.
Where British Columbia was once on the forefront of protecting youth, we are now lagging behind other provinces.

Struggling students in British Columbia need explicit protections now to prevent tragedy from striking in our province. I would like to know where you stand on creating an explicit provincial plan on ending bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity and how you plan to work with your colleagues in government and opposition to make sure it is done quickly.
I thank you for your time and look forward to your response.
Ian Bushfield

Well I actually got a response today from one of her staffers.

Thank you for your email regarding bullying in schools. We appreciate the time you have taken to share your concerns.

It is regrettable to hear when any young person takes their own life. Bullying is a terrible phenomenon and the province recognizes that something must be done about it. We understand that LGTB students face many challenges which can be dramatically compounded due to bullying and discrimination. No student should feel that they are unsafe or the target of harassment and abuse due to their sexual orientation or identity.

Premier Christy Clark has been very out spoken about the unacceptable nature of bullying. One of her most important accomplishments was helping to bring the Pink Shirt Day anti-bullying campaign to BC. The Premier has also been vocal very recently about the need for action on this issue. Our government remains committed to making sure that we bring in anti-bullying policies and anti-bullying actions at schools all across British Columbia. We want our schools to be a safe haven for our students, not a place of fear and intimidation and there is more to come from this government in this regard.

We have shared your input and the information you have sent us with the Honourable George Abbott, Minister of Education, so he, too, can review your feedback. Please be assured your comments will be included in any related discussions.

Again, thank you for writing. It was good to hear from you.

It’s good but will be better when it’s backed by real action. I hope whatever legislation or action gets introduced will recognize the unique challenges faced by the LGBTQ community and will seek to combat homophobic bullying with a multi-pronged approach.

Albertans: More progressive than their government

A couple years ago, the Alberta government bared a storm of criticism and pushed ahead with an ideologically-driven cut when it delisted gender reassignment surgery as a covered medical procedure. This is a procedure even Iran pays half for.

So it’s good to hear stories like this:

The landslide winner of a radio station’s controversial breast implant contest is a transgender Calgarian.

The winner of the Amp Radio contest, named by the station only as a musician called Avery, tallied 76 per cent of 30,000 online votes.

While an internet contest isn’t necessarily limited to Calgarians, it makes me proud to see that not only did Avery win, but did so by a landslide.

In an era when trans rights bills are still being stalled by our Conservative overloard government and his unelected Senate, it’s good to see some progress on treating each other as equals.

Make sure to watch the interview with Avery when they announce the winner:

Pride 2010

Yesterday was the 2010 Vancouver Pride Parade.

There was a total of 146 entrants, of which the 135th scheduled entry was the BC Humanist Association. With the BCHA marched the SFU Skeptics and CFI Vancouver.

I had previously marched in the 2008 and 2009 Edmonton Pride Parades with the Society of Edmonton Atheists and they marched again this year with a great FSM sculpture (write up and photos). Our first year there was a bit tame, but we had a table and showed some spirit. It looks like they’ve gotten really good at parades since then.

I’m proud to say that yesterday’s turnout was fantastic. We had almost 20 people out, facepaint, banners and lots of dancing. We unfortunately weren’t quite organized early enough to get a table (I brought this idea to the BCHA in early June and the entry deadline was June 30).

(video and photos below fold)

Continue reading Pride 2010

Yellowknife gay discrimination


Last summer I had the privilege to go to the capital of the Northwest Territories, Yellowknife (pictured right), to teach science summer camp with DiscoverE. Yellowknife is a town of under 20,000 people. Life takes on a slower pace there, and everyone drives 10-20 km/h under the speed limit downtown (unlike Vancouver where 20 over the norm).

One of the activities for youth there in the summer (besides the week of DiscoverE summer camps) is The Rock skateboard camp, run by some local evangelical Christians. Hopefully, this group has nothing to do with the following story, and doesn’t breed the same contempt, because from all accounts Yellowknife is a happy little community.

Scott Robertson and Richard Anthony, a gay couple, were trying to rent a room just over a year ago and had signed a lease with Will Goertzen. However, days before they were to move in they noticed that their room was listed online. It turns out that Will, with all his Christian love, had learned of the couple’s relationship (I’m not sure if he though they were just friends who planned to share a bed or something) and decided he didn’t want their kind in his house. The couple had to find a new place to rent since they had already sold their previous home and ended up homeless in Yellowknife for 10 days (the average high in Yellowknife in May is a mere 10oC).

They have already been compensated a portion of their deposit (they haven’t received their utilities expenses back yet) and are expecting to hear back from the courts about their discrimination case in August.

Jason at The Gay White North makes a good point on this story however,

So now I’m a bit worried.  On the one hand, I believe Mr. Goertzen must be held accountable for his actions and the consequences of his actions, and on the other hand, I don’t want him to become a hater.

I know I have no control over what other people do or think.  And I know how easy it is to label someone who does not share the same worldview as ourselves.  I’ve heard characterizations such as "crazy" or "nut job," much too often.  But that type of behaviour (ie: discrimination or name calling) will get us exactly the opposite of what we want: live in peace, harmony and happiness.

In an ideal world, everyone would think like us and act like us.  But, the world is far from ideal.  So, in the meantime, I’d much rather live next door to a homophobe than a hater so please don’t make a bad situation worse.


In a large city, where few people actually know their neighbours, there’s no real social ostracism that occurs after a case like this. But in a small, progressive town, where everybody knows your name and life story, it could turn ugly quick.

I think Jason’s sentiments are, somewhat ironically, much more Christian than what Will is doing. And this is one of those few cases where the Bible does have some wisdom: forgiveness is sometimes better than revenge.

Hopefully the Will sees the error in his ways (as it were) and learns some tolerance. Otherwise, a small, progressive community has little space for him.

(h/t Friendly Atheist)

Book review: Losing Control

Hot on the heels of Marci McDonald’s bestselling The Armageddon Factor, comes another expose on the religious right in Canada. I just finished Losing Control: Canada’s Social Conservatives in the Age of Rights, which was written by gay activist Tom Warner and published by Between the Lines.

Full disclosure: My review copy was provided at no charge by BTL publishing. Nevertheless, take my review as my honest opinion on this book.

Losing Control provides a good supplemental reading to the narratives provided by McDonald. While McDonald provides the detailed look into some of the cast of characters involved in the religious right, Warner adds an academic history in the events that date back to the formation of the modern rights movements in the 1960s.

Warner documents a shift in Canadian thinking from it’s Christian roots to a secular society that prizes individual and minority rights. This shift has obviously come hard for the social conservatives in the country, who have since rallied around various conservative parties, from the Progressive Conservatives to the Reform, Canadian Alliance and modern Conservative Party.

Warner breaks his treatment thematically, treating the abortion debate, repressive sexuality laws, gay rights and gay marriage in successive chapters. He finishes with some discussion about the social conservative inroads in politics.

Unfortunately, he only has passing references to the debates over evolution vs. creationism and school prayer, both of which have been hot topics for social conservatives.

In The Armageddon Factor, McDonald used mostly original research to compose her book, however the vast majority of Losing Control is based on 29 pages of third-party sources. This extensive bibliography provides a valuable resource for anyone wanting to get the dirt straight from the source.

I partially criticized McDonald for minor editorializing at points in The Armageddon Factor, and while Warner uses the mostly neutral term social conservative to refer to Canada’s vast network of religious right figures (which includes evangelical protestants, Catholics, conservative Jews, Sikhs and Muslims), he does end many of his chapters in a more of a warning style.

As an example, at the end of the chapter on regulating sexuality he states:

Sadly, there is no realistic reason to believe that members of Parliament will take the next logical step and actually decriminalize prostitution and repeal the repressive bawdy house sections of the Criminal Code. As has so often been the case in the past, the best hope for progress on those issues rests with the justices of the Supreme Court and their interpretations of the rights guaranteed by the Charter.

This is of course not to say that I disagree with anything Warner has to say, I’m with him almost the entire way through this book. He does come down firmly with the BC Civil Liberties Union and criticizes other gay activists who have used the Human Rights Tribunals to censor hate speech, to which I’m still undecided upon, but otherwise I’m in total agreement.

I think the greatest value in Losing Control is in its framing the battles with the religious right in terms of conflicting societal values. It’s secular rights (which include religious freedoms) versus theocratic ambitions to regulate morality.

One final chapter I was hoping for was for Warner to connect the dots (something McDonald attempted to do) and discuss the main organizations that have been active in the fights against progressive minority rights. Such organizations as REAL Women Canada, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, the Catholic Civil Rights League and Focus on the Family Canada. At the very least, a brief perusal through the comprehensive index will identify the organizations that routinely come up in church-state separation debates.

Overall, Losing Control is a well-researched book that covers the history of social conservatives in Canada and the battles that have been fought and progress that has been made since the introduction of various Bills of Rights and the Charter. While not an outright replacement for The Armageddon Factor, it does make a good supplement for anyone who wants to dig a bit deeper into these issues.

Evil, evil, evil

It’s mothers day, but I guess that means that sometimes you have to sit in class bleeding if you have 2 mothers and a bigot for a teacher.

The story isn’t completely confirmed yet, but early reports seem to be that an 11-year-old in New Mexico tripped and cute her nose and loosened some teeth was denied access to the school nurse or a call home because her teacher thinks she should attend another school since she has married lesbian parents.

The Albuquerque Journal also reports that when the girl submitted an assignment about her summer vacation, where her parents got married, the teach ripped the page out and told her “this is gross, this is horrible, you need to write about something else.”

The family is rightfully filing a lawsuit for negligence and violations of her civil rights (this is a public school).

"We don’t send our kids to school in New Mexico to get hurt and to learn hatred and intolerance," Foster [the family’s attorney] said. He said his suit will aim to show a pattern of harassment.

Publicly funded homophobia

Because the Catholic Church hasn’t had enough negative press recently, out comes a story that a Catholic school teacher has been asked to finish the semester working from home. I’m not exactly sure how she’ll manage that but the idea is that her contract won’t be renewed next year.

So what is so wrong with this teacher that she has to avoid the school?

If you think that it’s action on pedophilia in their ranks, you’d be wrong.

It’s the simple fact that when this teacher goes home to her family, she is greeted lovingly by another woman and child.

And no, this isn’t the Southern USA or the third-world. This woman was discriminated against in Vancouver, her school is only a few kilometres from where I live!

But even worse is that as a Group 1 Private School [pdf], the BC government funds 50% of this school’s per-pupil budget. That’s right BCers, your tax dollars are going to fund religious-fuelled homophobia.

Same-sex marriage is legal in this country. Gay couples are allowed to adopt and have children. It is downright wrong that this discrimination can be funded by everyone.

The government does stop partially-public-funded private schools from discriminating on a few grounds (from above PDF):

"Before issuing or renewing a certificate of group 1, group 2, group 3 or group 4 classification to an authority the inspector must be satisfied that
(a) no program is in existence or proposed at the independent school that would, in theory or in practice, promote or foster doctrines of
(i) racial or ethnic superiority or persecution
(ii) religious intolerance or persecution
(iii) social change through violent action, or
(iv) sedition.”

So no racism or religious discrimination, but I guess sexism and homophobia are still cool.

The other ironic thing about that document is how it brags about “diversity” while segregating large chunks of the population into their religious groups. Even further, almost all of the private schools are Christian!

At least the good news is that our heroine is getting a position with the public Vancouver School Board in the fall where she won’t have to put up with the child-abusing bigots.

Grits miss Bill 44 free vote?

To Hugh MacDonald, Bridget Pastoor, Darshan Kang and Kevin Taft: Where were you all on the night of Monday, June 1, 2009?

It must have been somewhere mighty important for you all to miss the third and final vote on Bill 44 in the legislature.

I mean, I can understand all the Conservative MLAs who missed (including Education Minister Dave Hancock), who may fear that there really is no such thing as a “free vote.”

But you Liberals made a lot of hoopla, and then almost half of your caucus fails to show up to oppose it. At least the New Democrats did their job (see page 8 for votes).

Bill 44 received Royal Assent on June 4th.