Gary Wong: Pink Shirt Day—what kids in pink and a rainbow can show adult politicians

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      By Gary Wong

      I am an elected school trustee, and when I reflect on some of the rhetoric during the recent election campaigning in South Burnaby, it disturbs me. At an all-candidates debate, that happened to be held at one of our schools, the conversation about refugees led to some in the audience reportedly shouting, “Canadians first!”

      I heard a similar tone during the recent civic elections where trustee candidates in Burnaby and throughout the province tried to make voters fearful. Being so-called “anti-SOGI” (Sexual Orientation Gender Identity) was seen as an easy way to garner votes. I’m proud to say that none of those candidates standing on that platform were elected by the people of Burnaby.

      In fact, in Burnaby schools we have a long history of supporting the LGBTQ+ community and diversity. Our board and senior staff saw early on the importance of being one of the leaders in this work.

      While other boards talked about SOGI this school year, we put a policy in place in June 2011. The Burnaby school district remains dedicated to establishing a culture of respect and belonging in our schools.

      We continue to encourage the ideals of diversity and inclusion through policies and initiatives.

      This week our schools are participating in Pink Shirt Day (February 27). It’s one of several activities that explore kindness and respect for others.

      Additionally, we now have two rainbow crosswalks greeting students at our secondary schools, with two more approved and ready to be painted as soon as the weather permits. They serve as powerful symbols of our commitment to celebrating diversity.

      When students feel welcome, supported, represented, and safe, they are more engaged in learning.

      Diversity is a part of the fabric of who we are both in our classrooms and in our communities. The strength in our differences and the richness of what makes us unique is celebrated in our schools.

      The increasingly global nature of Burnaby and the Vancouver area provides us with unique educational opportunities for all of our students. Learning firsthand about other perspectives—whether it be about cultural awareness or other expressions of who you are—benefits us all.

      Sometimes when I watch the news and see what’s happening with the rhetoric, such as in Burnaby South, or read about the latest tweets coming from some American politicians, I worry about the future. Then I hear our students speak to us at a board meeting or at a school event and my spirits are lifted.

      Many of our children could teach these adults lessons that promote tolerance and understanding of the diverse society in which we live, and how to treat each other with dignity and respect, regardless of our differences.

      Each and every one of our students are valued members of our community and it goes without saying that they are key to the future success of our society.

      When it’s their turn to lead, they will reflect their true colours and, I hope, take strength from the pink and rainbows of their school days.

      Gary Wong is chair of the Burnaby Board of Education.

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