Jane Bouey: Why human rights, safe schools, and Pink Shirt Day matter

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      Wednesday (February 23) is Pink Shirt Day in B.C., an opportunity to redouble our efforts in combating all forms of bullying and discrimination, and their root causes—especially in our schools. Pink Shirt Day should also bring special attention to Bill C-389. This federal bill would add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination in the Canadian Human Rights Act, and also add gender identity and gender expression to the Criminal Code sections dealing with hate speech and sentencing for crimes where hate was a motivating factor.

      Closer to home, during the Monday (February 21) meeting of the Vancouver board of education, my motion of support for Bill C-389 was passed unanimously. The motion also states the board will express this support to senators, who are now considering C-389, which has passed third reading in the House of Commons. (It received first reading in the Senate on February 10.)

      Why is this bill school board business?

      Harassment over gender expression can be for something as simple as wearing pink. People in B.C. should be aware that the widely celebrated Pink Shirt Day started when Nova Scotia Grade 12 students David Shepherd and Travis Price heard that a Grade 9 student had been threatened and called a homosexual for wearing pink on the first day of school. Shepherd and Price bought 50 pink shirts and e-mailed friends to get them on board. The next day, hundreds of students showed up wearing pink clothing. It then became a provincial phenomena, Canada-wide campaign, and is now an internationally recognized day. (Christy Clark incorrectly lays claim on her website to having created the Pink Shirt Day antibullying campaign—but it really was a student-initiated reaction to homophobic harassment based on gender expression.)

      Egale’s recent national climate survey determined that 95 percent of transgender students feel unsafe at school, that nine out of 10 trans students are verbally harassed because of their expression of gender, and that two out of five are physically harassed due to their expression of gender.

      Harassment due to expression of gender isn’t just experienced by trans, lesbian, gay, or bisexual students. The majority of those harassed for dressing or acting in ways that defy gender stereotypes are kids that don’t even identify as LGBTQ.

      Harassment drives LGBTQ youth out of school and on to the streets. Research in the U.S. shows LGBTQ students drop out at three times the national average. A large number of Canadian and international studies point to the fact that such youth make up a disproportionate number of the students on the streets.

      In February 2004, the COPE school board passed groundbreaking policy that included the following: “the Board is committed to establishing and maintaining a positive learning environment for all students and employees including those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, transsexual, two-spirit, or who are questioning their sexual orientation or gender identity. These students and employees, as all students and employees, have the right to learn and work in an environment free of discrimination and harassment....Specifically, the Board will not tolerate hate crimes, harassment or discrimination, and will vigorously enforce policy and regulations dealing with such matters.”

      The Vancouver school board is one of very few across the country that lists gender identity as an area of protection for students and staff. But once trans students leave our schools they are guaranteed no protection under the Canadian Human Rights Act or the Criminal Code. The VSB is working hard to make our schools more welcoming, safer, and inclusive places for all students to learn. As our motion says, we urge the Senate “to consider how Bill C-389 will make Canada a more welcoming, safer, and inclusive place for all citizens, but particularly for transgendered youth who may constitute a small minority of the Canadian population but disproportionately drop out of school because of harassment and may then face poverty, discrimination, harassment and hate-motivated violence”.

      Bill C-389 and the human rights it addresses are clearly issues that fall squarely on the shoulders of school districts across the country. The lives of our youth are literally at stake. I hope we can ensure that the Canadian Senate understands this and passes Bill C-389.

      Jane Bouey is a Coalition of Progressive Electors school trustee in Vancouver.



      Ryan Clayton

      Feb 22, 2011 at 4:31pm

      Great work Jane and the Vancouver School Board. There are many reasons why the schools here are so strong and contribute to making Vancouver such an amazing city. The efforts of the VSB to recognize diversity is definitely one of them.

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      Taxpayers R Us

      Feb 22, 2011 at 8:56pm

      Jane, I am a big supporter of Anti-bullying day, but I have to tell you, bullying is bullying no matter what the grounds are. By specifying"gender"or"race"or"orientation"etc, it seems you're asking for special anti-bullying provisions, which are divisive and will have the effect of "It's never OK but especially when...."

      Can't we just agree on anti-bullying no matter the race, gender,etc?

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      Glen Hansman

      Feb 22, 2011 at 10:31pm

      The problem, Taxpayers R Us, is that certain forms of harassment get overlooked -- even common ones like homophobia and racism. It's more comfortable to talk about "bullying" in a generic way, and it's fine that we do so once in a while; it is less comfortable, however, to specially address homophobia and racism, but to fail to do so means we gloss over things and don't address specific those problems in the way that they need to be addressed.

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      Feb 23, 2011 at 7:59am

      Behind every child who is a bully, there is an abusive parent. It never fails. And the unfortunate truth is that nobody ever seems to want to address this issue. The parents end up bullying the administration and nothing gets done. I notice in movements like this, as well-intentioned as they are, the "root problems" of bullying are mentioned in passing but never examined.

      Don't believe me? Take a look at what's going on in Bountiful. Why can't our society take child abuse seriously? Until we do, bullying will persist.

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      Rodger Dodger

      Feb 23, 2011 at 2:11pm

      What forms of harassment get overlooked Hansman?

      What is getting glossed over?

      The toughest thing in the world is to pinpoint the exact reason for why something is occurring. Maybe it's racism, maybe it's homophobia, maybe it's the ubiquitous psychological phenomena of "in" groups and "out" groups, maybe the bully just finished being bullied somewhere else in their life, maybe, maybe, maybe. Discussions about bullying don't remain "generic" because it's "more comfortable" for those engaging, it remains generalized because, as any judge can tell you, best of luck pinning down the precise reasons for why something happened. Sure there are cut and dry situations, but not many.

      Taxpayers R Us is right when he talks about divisive effects of singling out a particular group. Do those being bullied really want to be singled out for the group they represent, or do they just want the bullying stopped?

      This is about the unjust projection of power of a person/ group over another. It happens to everybody at some point - often many points - in their life. To highlight each group and it's own personal struggles waters down the focus of the debate, and risks turning off those feeling overwhelmed by the (perceived) complexity of the issue. This issue would be better served with discussions of power imbalance and how every person/ group can be affected by it.

      And Mr. Hansman, in the age of unlimited solicited/ unsolicited opinion, where most everyone has a voice to shout with, trust me, very little gets overlooked nowadays .

      The war is well on its way to being won (coming from an observer of the minority rights movement of the last 25 years).

      PS. My comment does not touch on the human rights part of the article. That is another discussion this comment does not address.

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      Taxpayers R Us

      Feb 23, 2011 at 4:51pm


      I disagree. Harassment and bullying is harassment and bullying no matter who does it or who it happens to. If one kid is being called "fat" and pushed around, under this ideology, he'd get less protection if he's male, which is the major problem here.

      A suicidal boy is more OK than a suicidal girl or LGBT?

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      Feb 24, 2011 at 10:10am

      Re. "Harassment and bullying is harassment and bullying no matter who does it or who it happens to."

      As the author said right at the start of the article, "Pink Shirt Day in B.C., an opportunity to redouble our efforts in combating all forms of bullying..." So nobody is proposing to give less protection to some than others.

      Yes, bullying can be and is carried out against a very wide range of people for hundreds of stupid reasons, including frequently against fat people, and this is utterly deplorable.

      But certain categories of people are targetted very consistently and viciously by bullies and people blinded by hate. Nobody (well, almost nobody) puts baseball bats into their vehicle to drive down (for example) Nanaimo St. looking for fat people to beat up. But there are homophobes who do exactly this on a regular basis to LGBT folks. Nobody would dream of saying that fat people should not be allowed to marry or adopt children, but in our society we have entire religious denominations and political parties which make denial of such rights to gays and lesbians an integral part of their outlook.

      Queer-bashing is a violent pasttime that begins early in life with the conscious spread of the hateful idea that LGBT folks are somehow less than equal and unworthy of protection. Pink Shirt Day was initiated as a courageous effort to confront and defeat homophobia. It is a campaign with very wide and significant anti-bullying implications, but its origins are not coincidental. Any male who doubts this should just try wearing a pink shirt in social situations where this is still regarded as "inapproporiate" and see the results. Daring to cross the line of "acceptable" gender behaviour and presentation is still widely regarded by many members of our society as grounds for a foul-mouthed attack at best, or a vicious beating at worst.

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