BC’s Central Coast School District adopted a new policy April 14 specifying that LGBTQ students, staff and same-gender-parented families have the right to be free from harassment, discrimination and violence.
The new sexual orientation diversity policy says LGBTQ people have the right to be treated fairly, equitably and with dignity, and to enjoy self-identification and freedom of expression.
The policy also says queer people should have avenues of recourse available to them when facing harassment, and that their families and communities should be valued and affirmed.
With the policy’s adoption, Central Coast becomes the 39th of BC’s 60 public school districts to adopt a policy that explicitly addresses homophobia, gay education advocate Ryan Clayton tells Daily Xtra. “It’s almost a done deal,” he says.
The remaining third of BC’s school districts have yet to specifically deal with discrimination based on sexual orientation.
President Marc Hedges of the Central Coast Teachers’ Association tells Daily Xtra the policy is a progressive one that has been several years in the making as the past board was hesitant to pass it.
Now, he says, there’s a new board — with a new policy.
“It just allows for more equality in the schools and some consequences for people who aren’t willing to be more accepting,” Hedges says. “It will put a damper on negative interactions between students and make staff more aware of behaviours we think are questionable.”
“Hopefully, it will prevent some traumatic experiences in the school district,” Hedges adds.
The Central Coast district covers a remote area of coastal British Columbia nestled among the Coast Mountains west of the Cariboo-Chilcotin, south of Kitimat and north of Campbell River. It serves over 200 students in five schools in the largely First Nations communities of Bella Coola/Hagensborg, Oweekeno and Shearwater.
The policy preamble notes homophobic bullying as a routine form of bullying that lesbian, gay, transgender, transsexual, two-spirit, bisexual and questioning (LGBTQ) students experience.
That can manifest itself in physical and sexual abuse, harassment in school, and discrimination in the community; emotional stress, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts; and lower levels of protective factors such as family and school connectedness, the policy says.
“Homophobia is directed not only to students who happen to identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer,” the policy adds. “Any student, regardless of actual sexuality or gender identity, can be bullied through homophobia.”
School boards have a responsibility to take “appropriate and reasonable measures for enhancing safety for all students and must minimize particular ways that many students feel unsafe,” the policy continues. “Homophobia is one of those ways.”
The policy says homophobic discrimination is demeaning to all students, their parents or guardians, and employees, regardless of their actual or perceived sexual orientation.
The policy directs schools to include prohibitions in their codes of conduct against language or behaviour that is deliberately denigrating or could incite hatred, prejudice, discrimination, or harassment towards students or employees on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation or gender.
The policy says all employees have an obligation to intervene in any interaction involving the use of homophobic slurs or acts, regardless of the speaker’s intentions.
Clayton applauds the Central Coast policy and describes it as compassionate.
But he questions why the BC government continues to wait for the remaining 21 public school districts to implement their own policies, rather than introducing a province-wide policy.
The Ministry of Education has repeatedly said that it prefers to leave local direction to the districts, though all districts are expected to implement the province’s broad ERASE Bullying strategy and to have codes of conduct in place consistent with the BC Human Rights Code.