The fight over the Vancouver school board’s antibullying policy, which saw two trustees censured earlier this year, has reached the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal.
In a complaint filed with the quasi-judicial body on April 18, social-conservative radio host Kari Simpson charged that the board is "promoting hatred and contempt" through initiatives that utilize "made-up words" like "homophobia, homophobe, homophobic, and heterosexism".
Simpson, president of the group Culture Guard, zeroed in on the Out in Schools program used by the district to provide information to students. She claimed it encourages people to mock Christians and others for their religious and cultural beliefs about homosexuality.
"It’s exchanging one form of bullying for another," Simpson told the Straight in a phone interview. "If our goal is to make everybody safe and welcome in the schools…then you can’t target people because of their religious beliefs or their common-sense beliefs. Because anyone that says, ‘Wait a minute, let’s look at the fact that there’s billions of dollars of costs associated with anal sex,’ for instance, right—because we know through all the disease statistics and all the rest of it that’s just common knowledge, that’s a fact—well, suddenly you’re homophobic, you’re all this and all that."
Simpson continued: "And it’s designed to shut down the conversation the same way kids that want to participate in things at school that, you know, somebody would yell at them, you know, ‘You’re a fag, you’re gay,’ all those kinds of things, right? So we have to get the name-calling out of the discussion on all levels. Everybody should be treated with respect. Everybody’s opinion has a value. You don’t have to adopt or accept it. But we need important civil discourse to start happening, and you can’t do that when you legitimize one form of slur and say another isn’t appropriate."
School board chair Patti Bacchus, named as the complaint’s respondent, noted that the terms Simpson referred to "have a clear definition and an application".
"If someone suggests that homophobia isn’t still an important issue in our society and our public schools, I’m not sure what she likes it to be called," Bacchus told the Straight in a phone interview. "But we’re not really in the business of making up new language. We’re using accepted…words that explain a fear of people who are homosexual."
Bacchus also lamented that, with the filing of such a complaint, tax dollars that could be used for public education may have to be allocated by the board for legal fees.
In January, NPA school trustees Ken Denike and Sophia Woo were censured by their fellow Vision Vancouver and COPE trustees for what Bacchus described at the time as "misrepresentation" in videotaped comments of the district’s antibullying policy.