Feb. 21, 2011’s meeting of the Vancouver School Board welcomed very few observers.
The Vancouver School Board believes changes to human rights legislation in Canada are necessary to fight homophobia and gender discrimination in public schools.
VSB has voted unanimously to formally support bill C-389, a proposal to recognize gender identity and gender expression in the Human Rights Act. The bill, which is now awaiting approval of the Senate, would also include discrimination against transgendered peoples under the Criminal Code’s hate crime laws.
“We spend so much time in our education system trying to prevent [discrimination] and dealing with it,” trustee Mike Lombardi said.
“This is an important legal piece which will make the case from a legal perspective. So, it supports us in what we’re trying to do through our education and training program for kids .”
The Canadian Human Rights Act currently prohibits discrimination on the grounds of “race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, disability, and conviction for which a pardon has been granted.”
As of now, transgendered peoples currently have no protection from discrimination under law. In public schools where children are often subject to bullying and verbal abuse, administrators currently lack any legal basis to fight the discrimination.
“We’re promoting tolerance and acceptance, and working really hard trying to promote social behaviour [in the schools],” Lombardi said. “What this does is, from a legal point of view, legitimizes that.”
Bill C-389 is a private member’s bill put forward by NDP member Bill Siksay, and was passed by a 143 to 135 vote on Feb. 9, 2011.
“I am proud to stand in solidarity with the transgender and transsexual community, as we finally seek their full equality and seek to establish their full human rights in law in Canada,” Siksay said to Parliament when introducing Bill C-389.
“I have seen and sometimes shared the frustration, the anger, the tears and the deep sadness of people who are not yet equal, who too often face violence, sometimes to the point of death, and who mourn the loss of friends and family for whom the pain was more than they could bear, “ he added.
Critics of the legislation have been calling it “the bathroom bill,” arguing that discriminatory protections against transgendered peoples would grant sexual predators access to the public bathrooms of both sexes.
Leading this charge against the bill is Charles McVety, an evangelical minister and far-right conservative activist.
“My daughter turned 13 on Saturday, and I don’t want some guy showering beside her at the local swimming pool,” McVety said in an interview with the Globe and Mail. McVety said he believed the bill to be “a danger to our children.”
Trustees with VSB unanimously disagree with McVety and worry that the bill could be defeated by the conservative Senate.
Trustee Jane Bouey echoed these concerns, saying that forces of intolerance “are spreading information about what this bill would mean.”
“They’re putting intense pressure on the senate to try to stop it from passing,” she said.
Bouey said she considered sexual and gender-based discrimination to be a serious problem in Vancouver’s schools. According to her, VSB passed its own policy prohibiting this type of discrimination in 2004.
“The early indications are [that] it hasn’t resulted in a complete elimination of bullying of transgendered students or queer students, but it does make a difference,” Bouey said.
According to her, only 12 of British Columbia’s 60 school districts currently have such a policy.