Knowledge and facts are what dispel discrimination and prejudice. But it’s within the field of educating people that some of the fiercest and most contentious local debates about LGBT issues have taken place.
Numerous controversies have arisen over attempts by school boards to implement policies addressing sexual orientation and gender identities.
Several debates about LGBT issues have taken place in Surrey. Among them, in 1997, the Surrey school board voted to ban books portraying same-sex couples. (In 2002, though, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled against the board.) However, things have changed: in 2013, the Surrey school board adopted a strict antihomophobia policy.
Over on the North Shore, Azmi Jubran won a landmark B.C. Human Rights Tribunal case against the North Vancouver School District in early 2003. He had complained that the district did nothing about five years of homophobic bullying he experienced at Handsworth secondary (even though he is not gay). The school board appealed to the B.C. Supreme Court, which overturned the tribunal’s decision. Jubran then went to the B.C. Court of Appeal, which upheld the original decision. Finally, in 2005, the Supreme Court of Canada rejected another appeal by the school district.
Before the Burnaby school board unanimously approved an anti-homophobia policy in 2011, opposition arose. An ad-hoc group called Parents Voice circulated a petition that gathered 5,000 signatures against the policy. Tensions escalated to the point that a trustee received a death threat. The policy, however, passed.
Similarly, when the Vancouver school board sought to update its 2004 sexual-identity and gender-identities policy in 2014, an uproar ensued. At a series of heated and packed public hearings, some parents and members of Christian groups expressed their concerns. A focal point of contention was about students’ right to confidentiality about their gender identity or expression.
Although Richmond has been fairly quiet on the LGBT front in education, a gay-straight alliance launched a petition to ask for an LGBT–specific policy to address homophobia and transphobia. Richmond was one of the last school districts in the Lower Mainland without one. Even though the student group received hate mail and parents expressed concerns, the Richmond school board voted unanimously in November to look into developing a policy.
In spite of all this, one program that has been addressing LGBT issues—including homophobia, transphobia, bullying, and discrimination—in schools is Out in Schools. Run by Out on Screen, the organization that presents the annual Vancouver Queer Film Festival, Out in Schools has been taking presentations to schools across B.C. since 2004.
Although many of these battles have been hard-won, they will, hopefully, pave the way for well-informed generations in the future.