Affirming Social Justice-Based Respect for All in the Burnaby School District

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.

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3 Responses to Affirming Social Justice-Based Respect for All in the Burnaby School District

  1. Erica Fowles says:

    Thank you for this uplifting and important piece of writing..even more important coming from a source such as the Anglican Church. In recent days I have sent e-mails to the Burnaby School District, the Willingdon Church and to Mr. Cummins. How could I not? Whenever official lack of tolerance for diversity [in the form of homophobia] displays itself, I am always deeply distressed. I tried to raise my daughter to feel good about who she is..and at 20, for the most part, I think she does. But still there is pain – and on a regular basis – when people like the Burnaby parents and Mr. C. grab the media’s attention. So thank you for your public opinion which acts as a sort of antidote to an otherwise serious poison…Sincerely E. Fowles

  2. Ron Gray says:

    Rev. Bailey cites his personal experience in observing Burnaby students’ distress over their “developing sexuality”; while such anecdotal information is never conclusive, it can be relevant. The Burnaby parents are also distressed over their children’s “developing sexuality”—in particular, over the fact that many voices are steering that development in directions that they, the parents, do not want it to go. And to have the school system funded by their tax dollars align itself with those influences is especially worrisome.

    Apart from such anecdotal evidence, there is the weight of solid scientific evidence that shows:
    1 – homosexual behaviour is manifestly harmful to those who practise it.
    A study done in Vancouver in the year 2000, and published in the Journal of the Canadian Medical Association and in the International Journal of Epidemiology, shows that homosexual behaviour shortens life expectancy by up to 20 years.
    We try to discourage children from smoking, lest they become addicted, because smoking will shorten their lives by an average 7 years. Homosexual behaviour is three times more harmful than smoking, yet the public school system, led by the BCTF (the teachers’ union) wants to manipulate student attitudes to (according to a graphic published by the BCTF for a teachers’ conference) “celebrate” aberrant sexuality.

    2 – Homosexuality does NOT have any known innate physical cause.
    No “study” that has purported to show a genetic or hormonal “cause” of homosexual behaviour has survived peer review—starting with the 1993 claim by Dr. Dean Hamer of the National Institutes of Health, that he had discovered a ‘gay gene’. That report was trumpeted on the covers of TIME, Newsweek and Maclean’s newsmagazines; but none of them reported the fact that Hamer’s claim was later discredited, and that Dr. Hamer himself retracted it.

    Vancouver-based homosexual journalists Stan Persky and Gareth Kirkby have both declared publicly that their own homosexuality was a CHOICE.

    Perhaps the best and most compassionate study on the topic was done by Dr. Jeffrey Satinover, who formerly taught psychiatry at Yale, and is past president of the C.J. Jung Psychological Institute. He says that homosexuality is a behavioural addiction; its nearest analogue is alcoholism: in both, the more the aberrant behaviour is practised, the stronger the addiction becomes.

    3 – Higher rates of mental illness and suicide among homosexuals is NOT due to social rejection; in the Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden and Denmark, where homosexuality and same-sex “marriage” have long been accepted, rates of mental illness and suicide among homosexuals are markedly higher than in the “straight” population, paralleling the experience in North America.

    Those who oppose teaching children to “celebrate” self-destructive are NOT “bigoted” (whatever happened to the other side’s objection to “name-calling”?), and they are not in favour of bullying. Their argument is simply that the best way to curb bullying is to teach students to treat ALL others with respect and civility, without singling out one form of aberration for special recognition.

    The mostly teen-aged mob of about two dozen, whom Rev. Bailey praises, who came out to oppose the 200+ Burnaby parents, carried signs that called the parents “bigots” and accused them of “hate”—they were certainly not models of civility!

    Parents fear—with good cause—that radical social activists have captured the educational Establishment that has control of their children six hours a day, five days a week. Their natural instinct is to protect their children from harm.

    The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which Canada is a signatory, says (in Article 26, Section 3) that “Parents have a prior right to determine the education of their children.” The Burnaby parents are only asking to be allowed to exercise that right.

    • Ron:

      Thank you for your comments – you are adding to the conversation. In contrast to the parents who have chosen, wrongly I believe, to go about exercising their rights in the way that they have, there are majority of parents in Burnaby who would have no difficulty with policy establishment of this kind which is very common throughout the province. The questions I would ask of the Burnaby parents who are concerned with this policy development are ones like, “have you taken your concerns to the District Parents Advisory Committee?” “Have you sought information on policy development in this area as it is developing around the province?” “Are you willing to enter into genuine dialogue on this issue with students and other parents?” “Have you read the research upon which this policy development is based?” I’d be interested in clear answers to these questions.

      In the meantime, Ron, I would urge you to read “In Every Class in Every School” a report on sexuality issues facing students and parents in the Canadian education system developed quite recently at the University of Winnipeg. Google “University of Winnipeg” and a link will come up to the report. The report is quite revealing.

      I would urge you to keep exploring this issue, especially from spiritual and social perspectives. And please don’t resort to statements like “radical social activists have captured the educational Establishment”. Such generalizations are patently false and do no service to anyone.

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