The Day of Pink has a local parents and teachers organization seeing red.
British Columbia Parents and Teachers for Life posted a "warning to parents" email bulletin on their website on Tuesday (February 26) that the British Columbia Teachers' Federation "is still using the day to promote a pro-homosexual message" and "is only one of the events the BC Teachers' Federation plans to use for pro-homosexuality indoctrination".
The day, held on February 27 in B.C., encourages people to wear pink shirts to show their support to counter bullying and discrimination such as homophobia.
The Day of Pink began in 2007 when two Nova Scotian students purchased and distributed 50 pink shirts to other students to show support for a male student who was called a homosexual for wearing a pink shirt. Pink Shirt Day, a campaign launched by then-CKNW talk-show host Christy Clark, is held in B.C. on February 27 (proclaimed as Anti-Bullying Day in B.C. in 2008). Pink Shirt Day is separate from the Day of Pink, held nationally on April 17 (which is also the International Day Against Homophobia).
BCTF assistant director of social justice programs Susan Ruzic told the Georgia Straight by phone that the BCTF is recognizing the Day of Pink on February 27 because unlike the Pink Shirt Day campaign, it specifically addresses homophobia and transphobia.
"We wanted to be really clear that this is an antihomophobia, antitransphobia day, in support of these two [founding] students….We want to call what it is, make it more specific, because when you're just making it a generic term, and there's undertones, then those issues aren't really being taken care of."
Ruzic noted that bullying and homophobia or transphobia are different things. She explained that homophobia and transphobia can manifest in ways other than bullying, such as omission, avoidance, or stereotyping.
"In text books and certain places, there are certain families represented, there are certain groups represented, more than others, that people tend to want to be like because that seems to be the dominant culture," she said, "and we've got to recognize that and understand that there are many colours of the rainbow in our schools and we have to accept everybody."
She said the BCTF is seeking both a discreet provincial antihomophobia and antiracism policy, to address underlying issues and systemic problems, not just bullying actions. (She noted that 20 out of the province's 60 school boards have a discreet antihomophobia policy.)
Ted Hewlett, president of British Columbia Parents and Teacher for Life, said by phone that his organization supports any measures to counter bullying, but remains concerned about the BCTF's approach.
"We want to see a program that combats bullying but does not do so by portraying particular controversial lifestyles or behaviours as positive," he said. "There's a bit of psychological slight-of-hand going on here because although it's supposed to be about bullying, the BCTF makes it abundantly clear they really want it to be about the bullying of one particular group of kids, who are definitely not in the majority but they certainly need to be protected, and they don't seem to have much interest in doing [anything] other than concentrating on that group, and using it to gain approval for a particular lifestyle."
By lifestyle, he clarified he was referring to LGBT people, who he said shouldn't be promoted in schools, such as by presenting same-sex marriage as equivalent to "traditional" marriage.
However, Ruzic pointed out that homophobia and transphobia can be used against all students, whether they are in fact straight or queer. She also noted that while they are hoping to make schools safe for all students, queer students are vulnerable to heightened risks.
"There was a [school] climate survey on homophobia and they estimate that 69 percent of queer youth are bullied compared to 7 percent of straight-identified youth. So an overwhelming majority of queer youth do not feel safe in schools. And queer teens are five times more likely to commit suicide than their peers. So this isn't just about bullying. It's about compassion for diverse gender expressions, and everyone is impacted by homophobic bullying."
But Hewlett remains wary of what the BCTF is trying to achieve.
"It's really being used as a means to an end, and that end is much more than stopping bullying," he said. "It's almost like bullying is just the launching platform…for having books and other media which positively portray lesbian and gay characters, as they say."
He explained his concerns about homosexuality are rooted in problems associated with homosexuals, such as AIDS.
"I'm not saying they're the same or exactly comparable but we do not expect schools to positively affirm a drug-taking lifestyle, a drug-taking behaviour," he said. "Now there are people who would say that homosexual behaviour is also harmful from a medical point of view. We don't go around picking out every single lifestyle, in order to affirm it."
While Ruzic said that research has proven that homosexuality is something people are born with, Hewlett dismissed that idea and said he would have to see those studies.
"I think it's important that everybody become an ally and challenge themselves to become more informed on…LGBTQ issues," Ruzic said.
Both Hewlett and Ruzic said that the BCPTL has not filed a complaint with the BCTF.