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Debate calls for compassion

Like many other letter writers, I am saddened by the polarity and name-calling in discussions about the Burnaby school district's Policy 5.45.

Like many other letter writers, I am saddened by the polarity and name-calling in discussions about the Burnaby school district's Policy 5.45. Religion, like sexual orientation, is a deeply personal thing, and hreatening intolernce and a lack of cceptance of either ncourages people to become closed, defensive and to lash out.

My own response to Policy 5.45 is based in my compassion for those who are affected by a climate of anti-gay slurs and bullying. It is also based in my strong belief that the human rights of minorities should be protected. When I think about homosexuality (and bisexuality and transgendered people), I think of people I know who are attracted to people of the same sex. There are many ordinary, even boring, people who are gay (I use gay collectively for LGBT - non-heterosexual folks). They lead normal lives, they contribute to their communities, and some of them raise children who go to your school. Under Canadian law, their relationships are legal, same-sex couples have the rights of different-sex couples, they can be legally married (and divorced), and they are protected from discrimination under the law.

Policy 5.45 addresses the rights of LGBTQ+ students and staff to be protected from discrimination (including a hostile climate) under the law.

I also feel afraid for my gay friends, because I know that there are many people who see that their relationships are sinful and immoral, who believe that homosexuals are diseased and sick, and who say and sometimes do hateful things. I know that simple expressions of affection (holding hands, a romantic look, resting a tired head on a shoulder) can expose my friends to danger. I also know that attitudes in schools and families often made it even harder to go through the difficult process of learning about their sexual orientation and romantic feelings. Some families are accepting and loving; many families struggle with a child coming out.

At the same time, I sympathize with parents who would just rather not think or talk about anything other than heterosexual relationships with their children. Parents may be uncomfortable talking about sex at all.

Most of us grew up in a homophobic culture, and learned that there was something bad, shameful or ridiculous about being gay. Some attend a faith community that tells them the Bible (or other scripture) declares homosexuality to be sinful.

Many associate same-sex attractions with promiscuity, same-sex pedophilic sexual predators and sexually transmitted infections (particularly AIDS). Many don't know any ordinary people who happen to be gay.

Some parents fear that they could never accept a gay child or that they would have to choose between their child and their faith community.

These parents could use support to become more comfortable with the reality of diversity in sexual orientation and to learn that it need not be seen as a threat.

To support our schools and our children, we need to be more compassionate to one another. The public school system will not teach children that all families are heterosexual or that heterosexuality is better than any other orientation. It will also not teach children that your skin colour, ethnicity or religion are better than everyone else's.

Passing Policy 5.45 is only the beginning of what needs to happen. I suspect that it will help the schools and our children if we as parents also create opportunities to learn and discuss our own attitudes, and to get the information we need to partner with the schools in raising children who are respectful of this aspect of diversity in our communities.

In response to the protests against Policy 5.45, I formed the Burnaby Parents Gay/Straight Alliance. I encourage parents and others to join us on Facebook. Families who are struggling to accept a gay child may also want to contact PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) for information and support.

I encourage those of us who support the policy to be sensitive to the fears of those who oppose it and to strive to be reassuring.

Including a diversity of families in the curriculum will not mean sexually explicit instruction for seven-year-olds. Saying that some people share their life with a person of the same sex need not mean describing sexual practices, any more than talking about husbandand-wife families does.

For those who oppose the policy, I encourage you to also be compassionate towards those who have a different sexual orientation from you. If you don't know any normal gay couples, ask around.

Gay people don't want to recruit your kids. They want their own lives to be better, they want to be accepted as people with rights, and they want to improve the lives of gay kids today. Many of them are motivated because they wished someone had been there for them in their youth. Remember that being uncomfortable is not the same as being unsafe.

Christine Hitchcock is a Burnaby resident and a founder of the Burnaby Parents Gay/Straight Alliance.