A local gay rights activist has started a letter-writing campaign to bring in a provincewide antihomophobia policy for schools, including private Catholic ones.
"The campaign is aiming to introduce a provincewide sexual orientation and gender identity policy that will apply to all schools in B.C.," said Kaitlin Burnett, a 25-year-old university student. "It's a policy to make sure all students feel safe and included in their school, regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or any other factors."
Inspired by the controversy over Burnaby's anti-homophobia policy, Burnett launched the Purple Letters campaign with Ryan Clayton, a Vancouver school board facilitator. People send in letters in purple envelopes with stories about homophobia or transphobia and a personal reason supporting a provincewide policy. The letters will be delivered to Premier Christy Clark and Education Minister George Abbott by Oct. 20.
Individual school boards usually determine policies locally, but Burnett wants to change that with a B.C.-wide policy that could also apply to private Catholic schools.
"It's very important this be a provincial policy so other school boards don't face the same problems that Burnaby faced and so students can go to a safe and inclusive school no matter where in the province they live. . A provincewide policy passed by the provincial government would affect all schools that receive government funding, not just public schools," she said, adding that includes private Catholic schools, so long as they receive government funding. "We're not trying to infringe on anyone's freedom of religion or freedom of belief, but we are trying to make sure that every school is a safe place for students."
In June, Burnaby trustees unanimously passed a sexual orientation and gender identity policy designed to protect staff and students from homophobic bullying and harassment. Parents formed an ad hoc group, Parents' Voice, in opposition to the policy and protested in the weeks leading up to the trustees' vote.
"I definitely decided to co-found the campaign because of what happened in Burnaby," Burnett said. "I think the Parents' Voice group is representative of a cultural shift in Burnaby and the province at large that's kind of scary for a lot of GLBTQ (gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, queer) youth. We are definitely seeing a backlash against youth rights, but at the same time I think we have a lot of support and I think there are a lot of people who want to make schools safe for people no matter what their background, so I think we are going to win this."
Parents' Voice spokesperson Gordon World is opposed to the idea.
"In my opinion, it's a very bad policy in Burnaby. Why would we want a policy for the rest of the province," he said, adding if Burnaby's policy went provincewide, he would move to Alberta. "I think it's very interesting that Burnaby has become sort of a test bed for the rest of the province."
World would be in favour of a policy that doesn't favour one group over another.
"Burnaby's policy favours these ideas and beliefs of the LGBTQ community over the majority of the population," he said. "It frightens me because I see the movement as very driven with not just going after public schools. They want to impose their propaganda machine wherever they can. At the end of the day, this movement is not about anti-bullying, it's all about sexual activism and pushing the agenda of homosexual and gay activists."
However, Burnett is optimistic about the campaign.
"We've already received a lot of support from the NDP, and we have MLAs who have agreed to bring it up in the legislature. We've received some quiet support from people in the B.C. Liberal party. MLAs from both parties have sat down to talk to us," she said.
To spread the word, campaign organizers have been travelling around B.C., holding special events. To participate, send correspondence to: the Purple Letter Campaign, #376 - 3495 Cambie St., Vancouver, B.C. V5Z 4R3, (letters should be sent in a purple envelope if possible) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.