One of Canada’s greatest strengths is the deep roots of our diversity. Our society depends on people from many backgrounds and beliefs getting along and treating each other with respect. That is why it is so important that we as a society take strong action to eliminate homophobia, transphobia, and all other forms of discrimination.
The uproar which erupted when the Burnaby school district began finalizing its anti-homophobia policy is evidence of why the policy is needed. The students there are asking for safe schools that support them being who they are. They aren’t asking for special treatment—they are asking for a level playing field where a person won’t get targeted with violence for being gay, lesbian, bi, or trans. The fact that this is even an issue in this day and age shows how important it is for strong education in our schools in support of diversity.
Given the kind of bullying, harassment, and intimidation these students face, it isn’t surprising that almost two-thirds of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students say they feel unsafe at school, and the suicide rate amongst LGBT youth remains so high. That’s why the work the Burnaby school district is doing is so important, and why it should be commended for taking steps to ensure its students are protected from homophobic and transphobic bullying, not criticized.
Bullying isn’t only taking place in Burnaby—it’s happening all across our province. Right now there are only 12 school districts that have specific policies in place to protect gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students. That is not acceptable. It shouldn’t matter which community a young person lives in—they have a right to feel safe at school. Unfortunately the B.C. Liberal government has refused to take action on this for the last 10 years despite the overwhelming evidence that our kids need help.
The Ontario government brought in a provincewide policy which all school districts must implement to protect students from hate, and to educate students about their province’s great diversity. It’s well past time for our province to do the same, and to take a leadership role and show gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender students that their happiness and safety is a top priority.
Our schools need to be places where young people are taught to respect diversity, not places where people are beat up or victimized because of a difference in culture, race, sex, ability, or sexual orientation. Discrimination is not okay anywhere in B.C., and our schools should reflect that.
Diversity is the greatest strength of this country and this province. As leaders, let’s embrace it and make sure everyone feels welcome here.
Spencer Chandra Herbert is the NDP MLA for Vancouver-West End.