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Jackson, J. - Homophobia Miscommunication

John J. Jackson, Canada

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John J. Jackson is a Professor in the School of Public Administration at the University of Victoria, Victoria BC, Canada, V8W 2Y2. He is a former school teacher (ten years) and Dean of Education. Email:
jjj@uvvm.uvic.ca.

Principals face many complex challenges and can often be forewarned of what may happen by learning from the experiences of others.

In 1997 the British Columbia Teachers' Federation (BCTF) passed a motion designed to eliminate homophobia in schools. In particular, the motion stated the intention to, ‘. . . form a committee which would create a program to eliminate homophobia and heterosexism within the B.C. public school system’.

Respect for Differences
The resolution identified the need to help students examine attitudes of discrimination based on sexual orientation - it was not about teaching students to be homosexual or heterosexual; it was about teaching tolerance and respect for differences. The Minister of Education used the 15th anniversary of Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms ‘to set the record straight on discussions about homophobia in schools’.

His article appeared in a number of newspapers throughout the province and emphasized that democracy is built on acceptance and practice of the principle of equality of rights, opportunity and treatment - thus, children must be taught to respect others and to honour differences. ‘All children’, he said, ‘have the right to learn in an atmosphere free of fear, hatred, intolerance, and harassment. It is our job as parents and educators to respect differences in abilities, race, religion, sexual orientation, and ethnicity. Discrimination on any grounds is still discrimination’.

Problems at the Local Level
This policy direction seemed clear and fair enough but it was not long before one school board voted to ban school material portraying same-sex parents - no doubt reflecting local public opinion. It was the same school board which, in 1997, decided against allowing the use of a slide-tape presentation on the history of racism in British Columbia because it was ‘not in good taste’. That tape included 1907 race riots led by the Asiatic Exclusion League, the 1914 incident when hundreds of immigrants from India were refused entry into Canada, the evacuation of Japanese-Canadians from the west coast in World War II, and the eradication of the aboriginal potlach ceremony in 1951.

The BCTF President used this latest episode to point out that the BCTF led the way in the 1970s with its ‘Program Against Racism’, for which it won a provincial government award. She then stressed, ‘Our members have told us that w must now take a stand against homophobia. Our schools must be safe and respectful of all our students’. And at a press conference, the Minister of Education stated, ‘The banning of several books from school libraries . . . showed a lack of tolerance and acceptance. Students . . . who are gay or lesbian, and students whose parents are gay or lesbian, are directly hurt by this action’. The debate continues and has some links with bullying and violence in schools.

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