West Vancouver adopts anti-homophobia policy

WEST Vancouver has added its name to a growing list of B.C. school districts that have taken an official stand against homophobia.

At an April 10 meeting, the West Vancouver board of education passed Administrative Procedure 171, a policy intended to help create a positive environment "for all students and employees including those who selfidentify as a member of a sexual minority."

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The document, which spells out guidelines relating to curriculum, staff training, general conduct and other facets of school life, makes West Vancouver the 17th school district in the province to adopt a written policy along those lines, according to Xtra!, a publication aimed at the gay and lesbian community that has been tracking the trend.

It comes six years after North Vancouver adopted its own similar guidelines in 2006.

Even though homophobic behaviour was already banned by default under broader policies related to discrimination, it was necessary to target this particular brand of intolerance because of the especially hard reality faced by the students it affects, said Aaron White, a West Vancouver school counsellor and one of the driving forces behind the document.

"The research clearly shows that, in general, kids who identify themselves as gay lesbian, bisexual, they suffer disproportionately from that kind of harassment," he said. "The effects in general are much worse on their mental health, which leads to higher rates of depression, higher rates of suicide attempts. . . . We have to take this kind of thing seriously."

One of the areas most in need of attention is word choice, said superintendent Chris Kennedy.

"It's about the language we use in our classrooms, the language we tolerate, the idea that saying, 'That's so gay,' isn't acceptable," he said. "We wouldn't allow the same kind of language if it had a racial overtone or a cultural overtone, so as adults in the school, we have to be very conscious of those same kinds of terms around gay and lesbian issues."

It's not just to help those who self-identify as a member of one of the affected groups, said White. "A lot of the harassment guys dish out to one another is around how manly you are, how masculine you are," he said. "When a guy wants to put another guy down, he calls him . . . some word around being female or he calls him gay. Either one is perceived as not being masculine enough."

West Vancouver's move comes a year after a high profile controversy in Burnaby that saw scores of parents descend on a school board meeting there to protest a similar policy. Kennedy was at a loss to explain why Procedure 171 was received so much more positively on this side of the inlet.

"I saw the media attention in Burnaby, and Vancouver's got some media attention around it. I have trouble explaining it or coming to understand it," he said. "It's not something we've felt or heard at all in our community."

Adopting the guidelines was a "non-issue" said the superintendent.

"People wonder: 'When this procedure comes in, what will people say?' That's kind of old-think," said Kennedy. "We haven't heard concerns raised; it's kind of: 'Well of course this is what we're doing.'"

North Vancouver superintendent Mark Jefferson took a similar view of his own district's policy, which was created in 2006 with the help of parents, students, teachers and other stakeholders.

North Vancouver was only the third or fourth district to have put something on paper at the time, he noted. "It's (about) trying to make all of our kids feel welcomed and all of our staff too," said Jefferson. "We need to let people know what our beliefs are."

jweldon@nsnews.com

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