Richmond parents are divided by a recent decision by the Board of Education to begin drafting a school district policy to better address special circumstances regarding sexual orientation and gender identity.
Colleen Howu and Flora Wen, spokespersons for the group Parents Care, say parents should have a say over their children’s education when it comes to sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). Parents Care also contends the Richmond School District failed to adequately consult with parents in deciding to recommend the implementation of such a policy to the board.
Parents Care argues that a separate SOGI policy is “discriminatory” and unfair to other minority groups — citing autistic kids and victims of cyberbullying.
“We aren’t against anyone. We just want everyone to be treated equally. Everyone should be under one umbrella, and not separate,” said Wen.
Another concern raised is protection of “family values,” said Wen, and the apparent need for more scientific evidence on SOGI, said Howu.
“I think we need more scientific evidence. I know some people claim they are born gay but then some people, they choose. So, I think there are two different sayings; so we need more scientific evidence on that,” said Howu.
Both say they are accepting of anyone who makes such a choice. And, if it is a choice, a SOGI policy could potentially convert otherwise heterosexual students, said Howu.
Wen claims her group’s anti-SOGI policy petition had significant support. However, the local reach of the 6,000-signature petition was called into question by board chair Debbie Tablotney, who noted many signatures were garnered online. Wen maintains outside support was minimal.
Regardless, trustees Jonathan Ho and Alice Wong voted against forming a SOGI policy.
“If you have one policy to cover all, this will be peaceful,” said Wong.
However, the Richmond District Parents Association supports the creation of a separate SOGI policy.
“There is a need for more resources to be made available and more education on the subject in our district,” stated president Dionne McFie, via email.
Teacher and Steveston-London secondary Rainbow Club organizer Lisa Descary said, “there’s a lot of misunderstanding and lack of knowledge” about what a policy will achieve.
Trustee Sandra Nixon said the policy will aim to better educate everyone (staff and students) in light of the special circumstances surrounding LGBT people, as noted by Western pediatricians.
Recent statistics show violent hate crimes in Canada are most likely to be committed against LGBT people and 16 per cent of all hate crimes are committed against LGBT people, despite being a small, non-visible and underrepresented portion of the population.
“When a group is faced with systemic marginalization and have not had a level playing field, sometimes special policies are needed to shift awareness,” said Nixon.
The Parent Cares group counters that, when it comes to all hate crimes, most (51 per cent) are racially motivated. Both Ho and Howu — as well as Descary — were vocal supporters of anti-racism rallies in Richmond late last year following what Parents Care called “shocking” flyers that discriminated against Chinese people.
The petition also raises concerns such as transgender people exposing their genitals in bathrooms.
And while Howu cited recent statements from the American College of Pediatricians (an anti-abortion group founded to preserve the two-parent, male-female family unit) that claimed tolerating gender dysphoria is “child abuse,” the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the professional body representing accredited pediatricians, came out in support of special assistance and better education for LGBT people.
“As pediatricians, we know first-hand how increasing burdens and barriers for youth who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) can increase their risk of depression, substance abuse, dropping out of school, or suicide,” noted AAP.
The Canadian Pediatric Society (CPS) concurs.
“The challenge for gay and lesbian youth is to develop a healthy and integrated identity in the context of negative stereotypes and prejudice,” notes CPS, which opposes the notion of "conversion therapy," as it has proven ineffective and dangerous to people's health.
Moreover, there are numerous examples within the district where minorities are recognized in a special manner.
Early last month, Ho introduced Black History Month to the board, while Wong acknowledged International Mother Language Day, with a special emphasis on Aboriginal language.
The district recently signed a new, unique Aboriginal Education Agreement with First Nations groups to foster better understanding of Aboriginal history.
Howu supports these initiatives, but said they are different than a SOGI policy, because she contends they don’t reflect personal values.