Challenging Times/Challenging Traditions

Photo: B. Harrison

“We know that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students too often feel unsafe at school. We know the power of words can create fear and pain, and spread hatred, homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, sexism and racism. And we know that if we can’t name it, we can’t address it.”                                                                                                                         ~Laurel Broten~ Minister of Education for the Province of Ontario

Each of the flags I have in my office (shown above) tell a story. This post is not about the flag on the left, perhaps some other time I will write about the trials and tribulations of a long suffering Toronto Maple Leafs fan. This post is about the flag in the centre and the one one the right.

Canada is an interesting experiment in democracy. Our nation was founded in 1867 by a collection of British colonies comprised of an interesting mix of cultures and ethnic groups.  French, English, Scots, Irish, Loyalists; who had travelled north after the War of Independence. They were predominantly Anglican, Roman Catholic and Methodistin faith and were united in a concern that they were being abandoned by the empire that had created them and would be swallowed up by their mighty neighbours to the south. The arrangement these colonies brokered was one that balanced the rights and priorities of these diverse groups within a framework that put ‘peace, order and good government’ above all.  Above even, the rights of individuals.

These collective rights ensured state support for separate schools in Ontario and Quebec~English and French, secular and Roman Catholic. That is why, to this day we have a publicly-funded Roman Catholic school system in Ontario. In 1982, the re-patriation of the constitution and inclusion of the Charter of Rights offered a re-visioning of the framework; with a shift away from the concept of collective rights towards the rights of individuals.

This has led us to the place we are now. The explicit individual human right of each Ontario student to learn and work in an environment that is free from discrimination has collided with the entrenched, historical right of a religious school system to adhere to it’s core beliefs.  And LGBT students are right in the path of this collision.

Personally, I believe that it is not only courageous that our provincial government is moving forward with the legislation to ensure that students can form  Gay-Straight Alliances in any publicly-funded school in Ontario, it also the right thing to do. In her comments Education Minister Laurel Broten stated that, “all boards shall comply with this section in a way that does not adversely affect any right of a pupil guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  Our charter of rights and freedoms is the law of our land, now.

Which brings me to the flag. 11 years ago, when I was a school librarian, I worked with an amazing teacher who came out at a time when many teachers were reluctant to do so. She asked me if I would fly a rainbow flag in the library to demonstrate that our school library was a safe place for all; students, staff and community. When I replied I’d be happy to do so as a demonstration of ‘tolerance‘ she corrected me, and I still recall her words;  

Nobody deserves to be tolerated, we all deserve to be included!”

One of my heroes, Deborah Meier says it best;

“Democracy is not always convenient, and rights do require sorting out. Neither equity, civil rights, nor mutual respect for the ideas of others are always the winners in public institutions- far from it. But public schooling shifts the odds in favour of such democratic principles…Public schools train us for such political conversation across divisions of race, class, religion and ideology.”                          The Power of Their Ideas 

  1. May 31, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    Wow! What a powerful post, Brian.

  2. steve
    May 31, 2012 at 1:13 pm

    Very strong post Brian…into interested in your thoughts on what to do when human rights collide.

  3. Stef
    June 30, 2012 at 11:01 am

    “Nobody deserves to be tolerated, we all deserve to be included!” This is powerful and is true to how I feel and how I what to be treated… I left high school to join and alternative school which had a program called “The Triangle program” and I can say this with sheer confidence that being in a space that NEVER judged me, or threaten me, simply feeling “at peace” saved my life…Had it not be for that safe space I am not sure where I would have ended up… Thank-you to all the teacher , LGBTQ and allies for having a voice where young LGBTQ youth do not… you save life’s when you stand up for what is right !

    • June 30, 2012 at 3:59 pm

      Hi Steph,

      I appreciate the response- your experience and passion are exactly what those of us who work in schools need to hear. I’m glad that you were able to find a place where you could be true to yourself- we need every school to be such a place.

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