Posts Tagged ‘ education ’

Legislatively “Balancing” Human Rights

There is a simple, time-honoured rule about attempting to “balance” human rights classes in legislation so that it works out a particular way every time, and it goes like this:

You can’t.

That is a court’s role.  When two human rights classes are put into conflict in a way that creates hardships for both, a court becomes the arbiter, weighing the context of a given situation in order to determine which party has experienced the most undue hardship.

Legislating such a way that one party’s rights always supersedes the other creates a hierarchy of rights, and defeats the whole purpose of equal rights legislation.

Bill 10

That is what took place this week with Alberta’s Bill 10, which newly-crowned Premier Jim Prentice introduced to dump and replace Liberal MLA Laurie Blakeman’s Bill 202.

The latter bill sought to do three things:

  • Give students the right to form Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) when and if they wanted to;
  • Remove a section (s.11.1) of the Alberta Human Rights Act which called for parents to be notified and either evacuate their children or opt them into anything that taught tolerance of LGBT people (interesting trivia: Alberta is the only jurisdiction in the world that has a “parental rights” clause like this, and it took several years to implement because no one was sure how it could work); and
  • Add a mention of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Alberta Human Rights Act to the Education Act.

Premier Prentice’s new Bill 10 does this:

  • Encourages school boards to allow GSAs;
  • Allow the students to sue the school boards if they don’t (presuming they can find enough legal help, information, support and funding to cover the legal expenses to do so, and ride out the years of delay tactics at boards’ disposal);
  • The bill also removes s.11.1 from the Alberta Human Rights Act, but makes changes to legislation which more or less negates the change, other than affecting the way complaints are addressed.

If at any point the Premier thought he had sliced through a Gordian Knot worthy of Alexander, he soon realized otherwise.  As the bill came up for Third Reading, several amendments were proposed by opposition MLAs, and Prentice is now said to also be considering some of his own.

There are two central conflicts within this debate, one that is discussed frequently during many debates on social issues, and another which has been barely remarked upon at all.

“LGBT Rights vs. Religious Freedom”

The first is the false equivalence between LGBT human rights and religious freedom.  The reason I call it a false equivalence is because what we’re really talking about is the complaint that the (“special,” as it’s sometimes called) right of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans* people to have equal access to employment, housing, services and other forms of enfranchisement is trumping the (“perfectly ordinary everyday?”) right to deny LGBT people any or all of those things.  People retain the freedom to believe what they will, practice their faith, and speak their beliefs — all up to the point where doing so becomes harassing and disenfranchising to others.  In most of the situations that are framed as pitting LGBT rights against religious freedom, this sort of conflict can only be considered equally-matched if you believe that coexistence is a violation religious conscience.

But the “gay rights versus religious freedom” argument has been losing steam, partly because the public at large is starting to recognize it as a ruse, and partly because the cause of religious freedom opens the possibility that the proponents’ religion will be placed on an equal footing with other religions, such as Islam, Satanism, or even Atheism.  Hardline social conservatives like the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer have spoken out about this within religious circles, and more are starting to follow.

Consider this candid rant by Scott Lively, the pastor who is widely credited with having inspired Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Act and Russia’s ban on “gay propaganda”:

“For about a year now I’ve been arguing against the use of “religious liberty” as a theme of Christian public advocacy. We retreated to that theme after SCOTUS Justice Hugo Black’s abandonment of the Bible’s authority in favor of a new “religious pluralism” standard in the 1940s-60s, starting with Everson v Board of Education (1947). That was the case that adopted Jefferson’s “separation of church and state” metaphor as a justification for declaring all religions to be equal with Christianity in America, and equally subservient to Secular Humanist authority…

“But God always provides a way of escape. (We’re only trapped if we accept the limitation of staying on their chessboard.) That narrow and difficult but God-honoring way is to stop arguing for “religious liberty” and resume our proclamation of the superiority of Christ and His Word over all opposing faiths (along with tolerance for people of other faiths — that‘s how it worked before Black). It’s goal must be nothing less than an official reaffirmation of the Bible as our legal and cultural foundation, which would require overturning Everson and its juridical progeny…”

It was never really about religious freedom.

“Parental Rights”

The other conflict that has been almost completely missed is the one between youth and parents.  The argument made for parental rights clauses is that parents should have (using the language of Bill 10) the right “to make informed decisions respecting the education of their children.”

No one was ever stopping parents from teaching their children what they believe and encouraging their kids to follow their lead.  What parental rights are actually about is the right to deny their children any information to the contrary.

And that only sounds like a good idea until you remember that the kids should have rights too.  But by enshrining parental rights in legislation, the Province of Alberta is essentially prioritizing the right of parents to deny their kids knowledge (and emotional support, if their kid happens to be gay or trans*) over the right of children and youth to know.  In some cases, it means that the attitudes of the narrowest-minded parents determine what everyone’s kids are allowed to know.

And when you say it for what it is, it doesn’t really sound like that brilliant a compromise.

When even silence fails: On affirmation (part 3)

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.

It boils down to affirmation.  Beneath all the rhetoric, the issue is not about speech or parental rights, but about fears that affirmation might enable or “encourage” someone to be gay or trans.

When I attended school, there was every reason for me to believe that the core of who I was would make me a target.  At that time, we didn’t really understand what transsexuality was — I hadn’t even heard the word until I was around twelve, and when I did I ran to my bedroom and wept for hours at the realization that if there was a word for it, then I wasn’t the only one.  The next day, I went to the library and sought out the “authority” on transsexualism… who at that time was Janice Raymond, so that messed me up for another several years.

Affirmation?  Hell, I was alone in a school and a church that taught me that I and everyone like me was pure evil.  As much as I tried to “man up” and hide, I was inevitably target — usually labeled a “fag” or a “gimp” or a “homo” rather than anything about being trans (hey, it was the mid-1980s), but a target nonetheless.

I won’t go into the effect it had on me, but do want to emphasize something.  Getting pushed around, harassed, intimidated, terrorized, sometimes beaten up… none of these things were the worst part of the bullying.  Bill Maher hit the nail on the head about what the worst part was:

“And there’s another way that I was bullied that I would like to mention, because I haven’t heard people talk about it, but I feel it’s just as bad as being beat up.  Although that happened to me a couple of times too.  And that is bullying by ostracism: when they separate you from the pack, and no one talks to you.  And they give you the cold shoulder.  And you’re suddenly not somebody who is welcome in the group.  I remember that hurting me very much.  To my core….”

It was the devastation of being so completely alone, isolated and incompatible with the rest of the planet that was the worst of it.  Alone-ness.  It’s the isolating effect of being targeted… and that, more than the bullying itself, is devastating.  That’s what I couldn’t bear.  If I had felt I wasn’t completely alone, the rest probably wouldn’t have mattered as much.

As we’ve already seen, the U.S. and Canadian far-right see being gay or trans as a choice, that kids aren’t any of those things to begin with and that affirmation and support simply encourage sinful decision-making.  Yet my own experience showed me that being trans was present in my life right from the beginning, was never something I could switch on or off like a light, and knowing that it was some taboo subject that dare not speak its name was an incredibly isolating and suffocating experience.  I wrote previously about the need to affirm LGBT students:

… kids absolutely do have a right to be affirmed as people, no matter how they might identify themselves. I say that as someone who recognizes that children and teens are complex but rational, far from the helpless victims we tend to see them as, and very often far more mature than we give them credit for.  I personally do not subscribe to the “heads as empty vessels theory” that postulates that they just accept anything that we put in there.  Underlying the fear of orientation and gender identity -inclusive sex education is a belief that kids are vulnerable to ”recruiting,” which is an argument that only works if you believe that kids have no will of their own and that one’s sexuality is entirely a choice – my experience tells me otherwise on both counts.

One thing I do know is that we experience life – and particularly emotion – much more intensely when we’re young. And in a society that is still so entirely pervasive with homophobic and transphobic attitudes, disenfranchisements and signals, the absence of affirmation of students’ right to seek identity and claim the one that fits them becomes a suffocating vacuum of fear of stepping outside the rules that police gender and orientation, thus inviting wrath.  It’s a literal hell to live through.

The mere absence of bullying — assuming that any policy could actually guarantee it in real life — is not going to accomplish an environment where kids are able to live and breathe and find the freedom to become people functioning at their fullest potential.

That’s why support is vital.  That’s why it’s crucial for LGBT and allied kids to be able to form Gay-Straight Alliances and form communities of their own without shame and without the educational institution sanctioning antagonism against their attempts to do so.  Especially for those kids who don’t have that kind of lifeline at home.  In enforcing that No Pro Homo environment, parents are isolating kids, forcing them to withdraw into themselves, instilling into them the belief that they are all alone in their struggles.

Parents will and do teach their kids.  They will and do pass on their attitudes about homosexuality and transsexuality (contrary to claims that things like the Day of Silence will silence them).  So be it.  Speech isn’t the issue, here.  The issue is whether parents have the right to ensure that their children are sheltered from any and all contradictory beliefs that might allow them to form their own opinions and develop critical thinking for themselves.  The issue is whether those parents have the right to prevent school administration from providing safe haven or support from this kind of bullying for LGBT kids, in the name of their religious freedom and their rights as parents.

When even silent protest is seen as “indoctrination, just promoting homosexuality and transgenderism,” certainly anything that acknowledges that LGBT people exist and dares to affirm their right to be — rather than assailing them as aberrant abominations, “sexual deviants” and demon-possessed — is apparently unacceptable.  And this is how the far right (again, not to be confused with all those of any particular faith) does its level best to enforce or at least shelter the practice of bullying LGBT youth, rather than end it.

Meanwhile

Meanwhile, the battles go on.  In Altona, Manitoba, after parent protest, the teachers who had displayed the Ally cards in their classrooms were ordered to remove the Ally language and leave only the word Ally in a rainbow flag.  This was still unacceptable, and with the assistance of Culture Guard / Roadkill Radio’s Kari Simpson, parents penned a letter threatening to sue, threatening to post photos and personal information of the teachers who were displaying the signs (and possibly the school board?) to some sort of “report a teacher” website.  Says Manitoba parent Wes Martens of the Ally signs:

“…Then they replaced it with a statement that… it’s pretty good, it’s not perfect, but it says ‘As a teacher I am your ally and I support all the children in this classroom’ or something like that it said.  We don’t like the word ‘ally’ in there and we’re gonna try and get that removed, but at least this is a major victory to get this, the flag and the Ally card are down.”

Because even the slightest silent implication of support for LGBT kids continues to offend.

(Crossposted to Rabble.ca)

When even silence “indoctrinates:” the “No Pro Homo” education model. (Part 2)

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.

Anoka-Hennepin: the No Pro Homo model.

In 1995, Minnesota’s largest educational region — the Anoka-Hennepin School District — adopted a “no pro homo” policy (sometimes called “no promo homo”) which asserted that homosexuality would “not be taught/addressed as a normal, valid lifestyle and that the district staff and their resources not advocate the homosexual lifestyle.”  This was to appease far-right social conservatives  (who should not be confused for all Christians, even though they often attempt to portray homophobic views as representative of the whole — when I write about the mindset concerned here, it’s a particular kind of mindset which justifies, and even that is a generalization).

In 1998, the district hired a part-time music teacher who was discovered to have transitioned from male to female.  Conservative parents launched a massive “Parents in Touch” campaign to have her fired and the Minnesota Family Council even launched an initiative to have a human rights law that protected gay and trans people repealed, but the extreme nature of the rhetoric surrounding the campaign also turned off a significant number of other parents and area residents.  The teacher resigned, but tensions resulted in the envelope being pushed back and forth until a 2002 attempt to replace an LGBT affirming poster with one advocating reparative “ex-gay” therapy led to the district formulating its now infamous “neutrality” policy. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Learn about gay and trans kids? No. Have them protest abortion? Okay.

A group of parents in B.C. are adamantly opposed to the Burnaby school district enacting an LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying policy.  Catholic school districts in Ontario want to ban rainbows and Gay-Straight Alliances.  Charles Adler is worried that a calendar that is a teachers’ reference (and notes the Transgender Day of Remembrance) might cause kids to become “transgender hookers,” and Charles McVety is warning that teaching students that trans youth exist will confuse them about their gender.  After the National Post apologized for McVety’s ad, the Toronto Sun ran it to make a point about free speech, and it’s now running in video form on SunTV.  McVety’s contention that LGBT-inclusive and -positive sex education “is truly sexually violating little boys and girls” is now being repeated (with nicer wording) as the conclusion of National Post columnists.  Teach kids to coexist with gay and trans kids?  You can’t do that.

Teach them to march in anti-abortion protests?  Sure, why not?

According to the Winnipeg Free Press, students are being given full credits for doing so, and principal David Hood is considering making it an official school activity. Continue reading

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