When even silence offends. (Part 1)
This is part of a 3-part series on LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying education, centering around the Day of Silence, which encourages students to take a vow of silence for the day, to bring attention to anti-LGBT bullying and harassment. It occurs on April 20th.
Part 1: When even silence offends: on the 2012 push from the North American far-right to subvert and antagonize Day of Silence participants.
and: When even silence “persecutes:” on the ongoing conflicts in Canada, and a new game of declaring “homophobia” a hate word.
Part 2: When even silence can be exploited: on how the far right’s “No Pro Homo” policy has been tried before.
and: When even silence “indoctrinates:” on why the failure of “No Pro Homo” doesn’t register as a failure in the mind of the far right.
Part 3: When even silence fails: on the need for affirmation.
Every year, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN) sponsors the Day of Silence and encourages students to take a vow of silence for the day, “to bring attention to anti-LGBT name-calling, bullying and harassment.” It occurs on Friday April 20th, this year.
The Day of Silence was started in 1996, at a time when silence was really the only permissible way to protest homophobic and transphobic bullying (and is still the only permissible means of protest in countries like Russia and Singapore, where some youth now mark the Day of Silence). In the past couple of years, a series of suicides drew attention to this kind of bullying. To be clear, bullying is certainly not limited to homophobia and transphobia — the kinds of conflicts kids face can be centered around body weight, lack of acceptable physical strength, pimples, voice, disability, race, mannerisms… just about anything that can be perceived can get singled out to make someone a target, and should not be lost in any discussion on bullying. But biases based on real or perceived sexual orientation and / or gender identity stand out because they’re very often socially sanctioned or at least tacitly tolerated in the don’t-ask-don’t-tell environment of most schools. Consequently, there is energy being made to ensure that they’re included in the overall anti-bullying approach.
Even silence is not an option.
Focus on the Family holds a countering “Day of Dialogue” (seen by some as a day to relentlessly verbally harass and bully LGBT kids) in answer to the Day of Silence. Because when your opponent has declared their intent to be silent, well, hey, that’s a good way to win a dialogue. For the occasion, the organization is encouraging people to evangelize others, and present Christianity as a loving solution to rid people of same-sex attraction — something that I and many others can attest doesn’t actually work, and merely condemns a person to a suffocating cycle of self-oppression and hiding.
Concerned Women for America, Mission America and the Illinois Family Institute are beginning a campaign to undermine the Day of Silence, by encouraging teachers to “plan activities that involve student communications so students are not allowed to do this,” and for parents to keep their kids at home so that they won’t be indoctrinated into thinking that LGBT people are in any way acceptable. American Family Association, Citizens for Community Values, Faith 2 Action, Liberty Counsel and Save California have all signed on to the effort. In a conference call, Linda Harvey claimed that it’s “teaching your children to bow before manipulative, exploitative and deceptive accusations.”
Linda Harvey is previously known for making several assertions that gay people don’t really exist, that parents should keep their children away from gay teachers and doctors for fear of them becoming infected, and that anti-bullying laws and policies are so dangerous that it’s better to fight them even if suicides result than to allow the policies to “promote sexual deviance.” Here’s Linda Harvey’s solution to LGBT bullying:
How about if we tell them the truth, that homosexuality is unsafe, unnatural, and no one needs to go there emotionally or physically?
Here’s the gist of the issue. Because for some parents, nothing less than vilification and outright disease-model lies is acceptable. Even silence on the issue aids the evil “homosexual agenda.”
When even silence “persecutes.”
Earlier this year, two teachers in Altona, Manitoba became the centre of a firestorm for displaying signs asserting that their classroom was a safe space for LGBT kids. The Border Land School Division asked the teachers to either remove the sign or else to remove everything but the rainbow on it. The signs read:
As an Ally, I envision a society that embraces, values and celebrates diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions.
As an Ally, I support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, Two-Spirit, intersex, queer and questioning individuals, families and communities.
As an Ally, I work towards a more aware, affirming, safe and open work environment in both policy and practice.
As an Ally, I acknowledge that creating a safe space is an unwavering process that requires productive commitment, re-assessment and dedication.
As an Ally, I am committed to the elimination of homophobia, biphobia, transphobia and heterosexism as well as other forms of oppression.
I participated a Rainbow Resource Centre LGBTT Ally Training session and completed ___ hours of training in the year.
The angry response from parents was that they — and they alone — want to be able to teach their children what those words mean. In the process, they also seek to define the environment that exists for all kids, and keep it free of even a declaration of support and safety.
If that characterization sounds overly melodramatic, then it’s worth looking at the inspiration and tactical assistants behind the Altona furor…. by folks who have heard the word “homophobia” so often that they’ve apparently filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal, in an effort to have the word banned from the public discourse as hate speech.
Homophobia: the new hate word?
Throughout last year and into 2012, anti-bullying education has been a flashpoint on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border. When the Burnaby School District passed an anti-bullying policy, it didn’t include language affirming LGBTTIQ students, though it did include requirements to support them when needed. This infuriated some parents, who formed a group called Parents Voice, which encouraged parents to pull their kids from classes or schools that might imply that it’s okay to be gay or trans. Parents Voice ran a slate of candidates in the school board elections, and placed last in nearly every one, but it hasn’t stopped visible activism, which is now focused on attacking Premier Christy Clark.
Parent’s Voice was inspired and influenced by Culture Guard, which is led by Kari Simpson, who also does an online podcast — with the former leader of the Christian Heritage Party, Ron Gray — aptly named Roadkill Radio (RKR). In addition to their political lobbying, RKR has run several media efforts (if you can call them that) to oppose anti-bullying efforts, such as hosting a talk by Dr. Helena Guldberg, to claim that “the anti-bullying industry may be doing more harm than good for children, denying them the character-building experiences that help them face the realities of later life” (a.k.a. “bullying builds character,” which apparently has value that transcends the fact that kids are killing themselves over it). Of course, it’s all perfectly legal for Simpson and Gray to have those opinions and voice them — I’m not one to support censorship. Especially when it’s far more effective to let them speak and reveal their bigotry in all its naked glory. Here’s Simpson and Gray on the human rights complaint Simpson filed against the Vancouver School District over the use of the words “homophobia,” “heterosexism” et al (full video at link):
Kari Simpson: Through our involvement in this endeavor, we became very concerned about the language of this debate. Well, it really isn’t a debate because part of the language used includes relying on slurs. Those slurs include words like…
Ron Gray: Homophobe, homophobia, heterosexist… I don’t know, a whole bunch of invented words that have no actual meaning — they’re not in any medical dictionary…
KS: But they have a purpose.
RG: Ah, they have a purpose. They’re propaganda words.
KS: Sure, and they are used to demean…
RG: That’s it. They demean, diminish, marginalize people who have a different opinion. Any different opinion from the sex activists.
KS: Well, and a valid opinion because now remember anybody who opposes the celebration of sexual diversity — and again, people, remember the term sexual orientation isn’t limited to homosexuality. That includes pedophilia. That includes bestiality. That includes necrophilia. That includes a whole list of “ilias” and sexual practices, including illegal sexual practices, under the guise of sexual orientation. So the whole language of this discussion has to be, we believe, refined to produce a healthy discussion and debate on this. And certainly that’s not happening now, because sex activists don’t want the debate. They don’t want you talking about this. They don’t want you talking about the medical costs to our health care system. They don’t want to talk about the human carnage associated with sexual promiscuity and all the rest of it. So they create these words, and anybody who says “hey, wait a minute…” you are marginalized, you are demeaned, you are homophobic, you know…
RG: You are called a bigot.
KS: … bigot… all those other terms.
KS: And what concerns me, and this is not limited to the Vancouver School Board, but also to our Minister of Education, is how so many of the policies being developed nowadays are designed to create discourse — you know, uncivil discourse. Nasty, mean-spirited discourse. And certainly when you see these terms — homophobia, homophobic — what you are saying is we are going to give license to one group of people to be targeted, and that’s anyone who might raise issues of concern around the promotion of sexual practices that are not in the interest of this nation from an economic point of view and on a number of …
RG: And certainly not in the interests of those students who are being targeted with this kind of propaganda.
KS: Well, and lied to. You know, if you’re going to talk about homosexuality and other sexual practices, then let’s be honest about it. Let’s be forthright. Let’s say, you know, if you want to want to go screw somebody in areas that’s not meant for screwing, there’s going to be medical and health problems, people…
Simpson and Gray’s “30 sexual orientations” rhetoric derives from spin generated by the Traditional Values Coalition and similar far-right organizations in the U.S. in 2009 to oppose the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act. According to this tactic, all of the paraphilias categorized in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders are “sexual orientations” and would be legally sanctioned and legitimized by human rights inclusion for gays and lesbians. It’s remarkable that RKR tries to resurrect that rhetoric (which failed in the U.S., by the way) in a country where gays and lesbians already have explicit human rights inclusion, where no attempt has ever been made to use that legislation to protect things like pedophilia, and where we realize that it’s highly unlikely that such an argument would ever fly in a Canadian court of law.
But then, Simpson and Gray are far from typical of the Canadian far right, because even when the likes of Ezra Levant, LifeSiteNews, Sun News Network and Charles McVety are careful to qualify their support for right-wing pariah Bill “anal warts” Whatcott’s “free speech” campaign by cautiously noting that he “may not be all that likable,” Roadkill Radio is right in there unqualifyingly cheering him on as a martyr and a champion and lauding him with accolades in interviews.
Kari Simpson’s BCHRT complaint stems from a police complaint she filed (or didn’t? That saga is a little confusing) against the Vancouver School Board’s anti-homophobia program Out in Schools, claiming that there were “serious and possibly criminal activities involved with this program.” There was an allegation of exposing kids to porn, which turned out to be rooted in the fact that the OiS website linked to the website for the annual Vancouver Queer Film Festival (QFF). Simpson calls this an “intellectual sexual assault,” borrowing directly from ramped-up rhetoric taking place in California claiming that LGBT-positive education is “molesting the minds of young impressionable youth” and is a clear attempt to rhetorically resurrect a conflation between homosexuality and pedophilia. The Out In Schools program is the focus of the complaint, with Simpson claiming that it — and words like “homophobia” and such — promotes bigotry and hate. They also plan to subpoena students who’ve complained about RKR on Twitter and other electronic media, and erroneously affirm to their listeners that anti-bullying programs are “subject matter, by the way, that’s costing us billions and billions of dollars.”
But they are fueling the Canadian far right nevertheless, and fomenting some of the anti-anti-bullying reaction taking place, particularly in B.C. Last Tuesday, their “homophobia is an anti-Christian slur” meme was repeated in Ontario by Campaign Life Catholics’ Jack Fonseca, who is hardly a lightweight on the Canadian far-right landscape. And recently, they featured an interview with one of the parents leading the Altona, Manitoba campaign to have the Ally signs taken down, about Simpson’s assistance in writing letters of demand and planning strategy… an interview that is revealing in a way we’ll get to, shortly.
Of course, Canada’s far right anti-anti-bullying effort does not stem from Simpson and Gray alone, but rather a multi-pronged effort from several among the far right, in B.C., Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec and Ontario, where the fights have been the most heated. The position of all of these groups is that anything that affirms, supports or even acknowledges LGBT people in schools is unnecessary, controversial, contravenes parents’ rights to determine what their kids are taught, and should not be spoken.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, as the case may be), we already have a model of how that works.
Next: The “No Pro Homo” Education Model
(crossposted to Rabble.ca)