By Janet Steffenhagen -
Parents are planning a rally tonight to protest a policy drafted by the Burnaby school district to combat discrimination against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students.
While agreeing there are serious issues to be addressed, many parents say they are angry at school trustees for not consulting them while the policy was being developed and not providing sufficient information about what lessons students will be taught about homophobia, transphobia (fear or hatred of transgender or transsexual people) and heterosexism (belief in the superiority of heterosexuality) if the policy is approved.
"[There] appears to be a lack of transparency," said James Gray, whose children are in Grades 4 and 6. "Many, if not most, of the parents that I've talked with feel that they've been blindsided by this process." Although the policy was two years in the making, many parents didn't find out about it until last month.
Gray said he was appalled to learn recently that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth are 16 times more likely to commit suicide than straight students, and that "unacceptable" plight requires swift action. But solutions must be found by adults in the community and not through the "sexualization" of schools, especially K-7 schools, he added.
"I have two young children in the school system and I don't want any adult to look at them in a sexual way. Whether or not my daughter is heterosexual or a lesbian is none of their business."
Board chairman Larry Hayes admitted the district could have made a greater effort to involve parents, and said the deadline for public comment has been extended to compensate. But, he said, he's heard "loud and clear" from students and staff that the policy is necessary.
"[It's] all part of creating a safe, caring and respectful environment for all of our students," he said Monday.
More than a dozen B.C. school districts already have similar policies, and Hayes said he expects others will follow suit.
In recent days, the board has received many emails and expects to hear from six delegations at Tuesday's board meeting. Parents packed a similar meeting late last month, with most expressing opposition.
Hayes suggested some of the pushback has been organized by church congregations, including members of the large Willingdon Church, where half the congregation is ethnic Asian. Some of that was based on a belief that the policy would result in major changes to curriculum, he added, and that's not the case.
The B.C. Muslim Association argues that laws already exist to protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students from harassment and discrimination.
"We feel that receiving education about the details of this lifestyle should be left up to the individual choice of students and parents," it states.
Daud Ismail, past-president of the association, said the board needs to develop policy that respects the rights of everyone, not a single group. "We have no problem with the rights for the homosexual community," he stated in an interview, but school district policy should be based on consensus. Trustees are expected to vote on the policy next month and while they're open to hearing other views, they are unlikely to start the process again, Hayes said. "We're elected to do the right thing and I think we're doing the right thing."