Your very `social justice motivated` deacon blogger was blessed by God in having a ministry of community building and reconciliation as a secondary school administrator in the Burnaby School District for several years. During that time I was privileged to bring the healing presence of Christ into countless situations involving personal and inter-personal conflict – overtly, or more discreetly depending on those involved. One of the favorite guidelines for us deacons is the famous `preach the Gospel, use words if you have to`. The presence of Christ doesn`t always have to be spoken.
It is in the context of said diaconal ministry, my calling in Jesus Christ, that I affirm the efforts of my one time employers, the Burnaby School District, to continue its positive policy work in the area of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered and`two-spirited` persons. Kudos to members of the Burnaby Board of Education and their chair, Larry Hayes, for articulating a vision for human justice so clearly in the face of opposition. I worked with Hayes on another community justice board of directors and know what an informed, dedicated advocate for people and for social justice he is.
My own ministry experience in Burnaby brought me face to face with distressed, confused and depressed students – some even contemplating suicide – all because of their developing sexuality. Their anguish was hardly a matter based on a personal choice to be `different`. Some students lived in constant fear that they would be kicked out of their homes and disinherited if their parents knew of their struggles with sexual identity and their developing sexual feelings. Enough said. I have also worked with many fine gay and lesbian teachers and support personnel in Burnaby schools over the years. These colleagues made and continue to make excellent positive contributions to the intellectual, athletic, social and spiritual development of young people.
It is distressful to me personally, therefore, to hear of unfortunate and, I believe, uninformed opposition to Burnaby`s positive attitude toward its gay and lesbian students and employees from Christian groups. What the Burnaby Board of Education is proposing in not new, nor is it particularly radical. Burnaby is following the lead of several BC school districts who have similar policies in place. These policies on sexual orientation and identity are important parts of policy manuals in school districts across BC and were always on the curriculum in my classes at Trinity Western University where future Christian teachers were made aware of their own professional and personal responsibilities toward their future students and colleagues in the context of sexual orientation and identity.
These Burnaby policy proposals have been unfortunately and ignorantly described as the slippery slope to all manner of evil. Think again, and think clearly. Opposition to them is based generally on a significant deficit of scientific and social knowledge about human sexuality and is akin to the unfortunate rantings of the Christian right in the US about the place of ìntelligent design`in science classes.
Fuel is added to the fires of misinformation and misunderstanding by the likes of John Cummins, the new leader of the BC Conservative Party who is proclaiming that he has `research`to show that sexual orientation and activity originates solely in personal choice and that GLBT persons have no need of particular protection from bullying and discrimination. My experience with my GLBT colleagues and students over the years tells me something quite different. Persons like John Cummins frighten me. Vancouver MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert has publicly and articulately refuted Cummins`s misinformation around the nature of human sexuality and has challenged Cummins to further his own education. I hope Mr. Cummins will do so. I would love to hear a debate between these two politicians.
At any rate, when community agencies and groups continue the implementation of public policy that helps strengthen social justice and respect for all, we need to support those agencies and stand up against recurrent shallow thinking and misinformed proclamations by those in the public eye. As Christians, we need always to strive for the realization of the Kingdom of God among us and give no impression that any human being is of lesser worth than another. That teaching begins with our children.
It is therefore heartening that dozens of Burnaby students in favor of the proposed `gay-positive`policy demonstrated at the Administration Office before the May 10 Burnaby Board of Education meeting. At the same time 200 parents were rallying against the policy draft. It seems these parents have an inherent objection to people learning and working together in an environment `free from homophobia, transphobia, anti-gay harassment and exclusion, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.` I`m with the kids on this one.
One would hope that the adults will learn from them.
Rev. Steve Bailey is deacon at St. Laurence, Coquitlam, and a retired Burnaby teacher and secondary school administrator as well as instructor in Education at Trinity Western University. He is currently past president of the Burnaby Retired Teachers Association and serves on the Heritage and Excellence in Education committees of the British Columbia Retired Teachers Association.
Your comments and thoughts are always welcome.