Burnaby: We can be human beings

Every now and then, a story comes along that restores some of my faith in humanity:

The Burnaby school board approved a controversial anti-homophobia policy on Tuesday evening. Trustee Ron Burton said it is comparable to an anti-racism policy implemented several years ago. “It was quite prevalent in the schools — racist slurs were everywhere,” Burton said. “[The anti-racism policy] gave teachers the ability to correct that behaviour, to say, ‘That’s inappropriate’ and make it a teaching moment when it happens. We’re hoping the same thing will happen with homophobic slurs — and educate kids in general.”

He pointed to the 2001 killing of Aaron Webster, a gay man who was beaten to death by a group of former Burnaby students because of his sexual orientation. “Perhaps if we had this policy in place [then], they wouldn’t be in jail now and that man would be alive,” Burton said.

Anti-gay bullying is a serious problem, particularly because it happens at an age where kids are particularly susceptible to the taunts and disapproval of their peers. I’ve spoken about this before, but the argument bears repeating. Gay kids get particularly singled out not just by individual bullies, but by society at large. “Gay” is a slang term that means blanket condemnation of LGBT people, and it gets tossed around with seeming unthinking ease. Add to that the fact that anti-gay attitudes are passed off as “traditional family values” – as though families with gay people don’t have values of their own. Kids are made to feel ashamed of themselves for no good reason, and then bullied on top of that.

There is a common objection that usually accompanies stories like this: all bullying is bad; why should we give gay kids special treatment when straight kids are being bullied too? I sometimes wonder when I hear these objections if the speaker has put any thought into that statement, or if it’s simply a knee-jerk reaction fueled by anti-gay sentiment. Nobody is saying “straight kids aren’t important” or “we are not interested in stopping bullying in general unless you’re gay”. It’s recognizing that there is a unique problem in a subset of a population that requires particular attention.

To draw an analogy, the objection is about as reasonable as saying “why should we raise money to feed starving people? Some people have heart disease – everyone’s got problems! We should just focus on solving all bad things, rather than giving starving people special attention!” It’s a ridiculous position that assumes a sort of zero-sum game, where targeting a solution to one community takes something away from another. Anti-gay bullying is a subset of bullying in general, and because the consequences are more dire and immediate, and because that particular subset has been ignored for so long, we can devote some extra attention to it, which ultimately reduces general bullying.

Of course, the part that I like the most about this story is the following:

A group called the Parents’ Voice had gathered thousands of signatures for a petition against the policy, saying it violates parental and religious rights. The group accused the district of trying to camouflage a discriminatory policy by calling it an anti-bullying measure.

If your religion requires you to bully gay kids, then your religion is fucked up and you need to change it. I’m not sure where parents got the idea that they have the right to teach their kids to hate other people, and the rest of the world has to respect that. If your beliefs are stupid, then you’re going to find that the rest of the world is going to be against you (with a few caveats if you live in Alberta). Just as it isn’t a violation of “parental and religious rights” to tell kids that black people aren’t the result of an ancient curse and deserve the same respect as white people, it’s not a violation of those same imagined rights to tell them “some people are gay, and that’s not an abomination or a sin – it’s just the way some people are.”

But despite the objections from the lunatic asylum, the board did the right thing and moved their policy into the later part of the 20th century. Those who are demanding the right to propagate their small-minded bigotry against gay people through their children are losing a battle against the tide of history. While it’s not happening fast enough for my tastes, soon all that will be left of these “traditional family values” will be an unpleasant memory of howling hordes of ignorant, backward people, and we will look back and say “how could anyone actually believe that?”

If you’re frightened by that last sentence, you should be.

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  1. says

    Hurray, a school board doing the right thing in the face of protests from (some) parents! This is all-around good news, I think. I used to live in Burnaby, and I voted in one local election – it’s possible I actually voted for one of these fine civil servants.

  2. Curt says

    I’ve often thought recently that the plethora of organizations, groups and associations these days that have the word “Family” somewhere in their name will force future generations to redefine the term family, from historical evidence, as an organizational structure dedicated to the promulgation of hate and bigotry.

    I’m being only slightly facetious when I say that, unfortunately.

  3. Curt says

    Heh…I think that is probably the piece that first got me thinking about that topic. That’s around the time I first started reading CA.

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