Photo courtesy Richmond School District
What sung out clearly from every speaker’s words Wednesday night were fear for their children and anger at those they felt were leaving them open to danger.
At issue was the Richmond School District’s proposed Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity policy.
At the board of trustees’ June 27 meeting, the five-sentence motion was passed, with only trustee Jonathan Ho opposed.
J. N. Burnett Secondary School’s gym was nearly full, with more than 60 people indicating they wanted to speak.
One parent of a gay teen spoke of his fear that without the official protection the proposed policy offers, his child might be one of the 30 per cent who try to kill themselves. (The rate for straight teens is 7 per cent.)
Another parent expressed her fear that the policy “teaches my child to cut off a body part,” in apparent reference to the policy of supporting and accepting transgender students.
An elderly man also got up to speak: “My name is John Cameron. I am 71 years old. I have lived here since the ‘50s. I am gay.”
Cameron spoke of the stigma and the vicious bullying he suffered while a student at Richmond schools, even though he told no one he was gay. He spoke of the increased suicide rate among gay teens as a result of the way they are treated and ended his statement by saying, “I embrace this policy and applaud the Richmond School District for supporting it.”
While another parent spoke against the policy, fearing that normalizing acceptance and support of transgender students will lead to her child thinking “anti-gender is cool, neat,” and might lead her child to choose to be transgender. When she closed her statement, loud cheers erupted.
Dr. Meena Dawar, Richmond public health officer, spoke on behalf of Vancouver Coastal Health.
She said she reviewed many scientific studies that showed students in schools and districts with sexual orientation and gender identity policies have better health outcomes and that this is also directly tied to their grades.
“It is important to create a respectful, safe and inclusive learning environment,” Dawar said.
Another parent, opposed to the policy, asked: “Are you going to teach all the students that there are no girls or boys? Teaching ideas other than facts is ideology, indoctrination.”
Many of the parents who spoke in opposition to the policy made it clear they felt short of both information and notice of information sessions.
One parent of a daughter at Thompson Elementary said of the policy, “Parents didn’t know about it. I couldn’t find detailed information about SOGI. No one mentioned it at a PAC meeting so I feel we need at least six more months to make this decision.”
Before the final question was called, there was a motion to delay the vote on the policy until fall. But that motion was defeated.
The BC Ministry of Education mandated that all schools in the province should have a sexual orientation and gender identity policy by the end of 2016. Richmond is one of the last of the province’s 60 school districts to vote on their policy.
Student Cassandra Carlos from Steveston-London’s Rainbow Club spoke: “Many times I have felt unwelcome. Bullying is all too real in Richmond Schools.”
She gave many examples of bullying by others in the school, including a substitute teacher who suggested she try conversion therapy to change her sexual orientation.
“I believe education will eliminate homophobia and for that reason we need a discreet policy,” she said. “It is not unfair to promote equality and respect on the basis of who you love and how they present themselves,” she said, at which point loud cheers erupted.