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Burnaby's policy on homophobic bullying meets opposition from parents Add to ...

Tired of the taunts and afraid of the ever-increasing shoves, Kaitlin Burnett considered giving up on school after her Burnaby classmates learned she was a lesbian.

Ms. Burnett went on to receive her diploma, but only after switching schools because of the incessant bullying. Now 25 and preparing for graduate studies, the community activist said the high school experience appears to be somewhat easier for today's youth.

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So it was all the more surprising when a policy by the Burnaby School District to address homophobic bullying by giving teachers material that would allow them to instruct students on its impact met opposition from a parents group that said it smacks of indoctrination.

"All it will do is teach tolerance and acceptance and help students to understand that LGBTQ people are part of their community and are not to be feared," Ms. Burnett said of the proposal, known as Policy 5.45.

"You can't teach someone to be gay any more than you can teach someone to be straight."

The policy, which is still in the draft stage, was developed over a two-year period. The goal as stated in the document is "to ensure that all members of the school community learn to work together in an atmosphere of respect and safety, free from homophobia."

But a group called Parents' Voice has spoken strongly against the policy and launched numerous protests, the latest of which was scheduled for Tuesday evening.

Gordon World, one of the group's spokesmen, said the policy isn't necessary because the district's code of conduct already includes sexual orientation as a protected right. He also accused the district of failing to consult parents properly.

In a news release, Parents' Voice blasted the school board for what it called a "hidden political agenda."

"We're simply saying that this gives too much breadth and width to activist teachers to preach, to indoctrinate, to unduly influence minds that are still in the formative stages," Mr. World said in an interview.

When asked what the outcome of this scenario could be and whether it would lead to more gay youth, Mr. World said he couldn't speculate.

When asked if homosexuality is a choice, the bike business owner said he was unsure.

"In some instances, it would appear that there is a lifestyle choice that is made, be it something traumatic or be it hard-wired in," he added.

Parents' Voice has objected to some of the wording in the draft policy. It defines "heterosexism" as "the mistaken assumption that all people are heterosexual and that heterosexuality is superior and the norm by which all other sexual orientation and gender identities are measured." The document goes on to say "heterosexism perpetuates negative stereotypes and is dangerous to individuals and communities."

Larry Hayes, in his third term as a trustee and the board's chair, said some of the wording still has to be revised but that's what draft versions are for.

Mr. Hayes laughed off any suggestion that a hidden political agenda is at work.

"We're looking for a change of attitude in the district, we're not changing curriculum. We may make more LGBTQ-friendly material available to teachers in an age-appropriate way, but it's still all curriculum that's approved by the Ministry of Education. We're not doing anything dramatic as far as what's going to happen in the classroom."

When asked if the protest might be an example of homophobia, Mr. Hayes said it was likely just a misunderstanding.

Seven trustees will vote on the policy. The public has until June 4 to submit feedback. The topic has already been discussed at multiple board meetings. Mr. Hayes hopes enough information is compiled for the board to move forward by the end of this school year.

Twelve school districts in B.C. have already established similar LGBTQ policies.

Sarah Larsen, an elementary school teacher who was on the committee that developed the policy, said it would allow teachers to address LGBTQ issues more openly if they arise in the classroom.

Ms. Larsen said she's spoken with concerned parents, and once they hear how little it will affect day-to-day classroom activities, they're in favour.

Jennifer Mezei, chair of the Burnaby District Parent Advisory Council, said the policy was discussed at one of its meetings and the majority of parents agreed with its intent.

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