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Gay issues now on a Canadian school curriculum
Fri Jun 2, 1:11 PM ET
VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - Canada's westernmost province has settled a civil rights complaint by creating a new high school course on social justice that will include sexual orientation issues.
The gay couple who filed the 1999 complaint said the new course, which will be offered as an elective for British Columbia's Grade 12 students, should help foster diversity and tolerance within the province's public schools.
Provincial Attorney General Wally Oppal said the class, which will also study race and ethnicity issues, was less controversial than it would have been in the past because of a growing acceptance of the social contributions of homosexuals.
"This is really a classic case of much ado about little or nothing," Oppal told reporters on Thursday after announcing the settlement of the complaint that had alleged the province's school curriculum discriminated against gay and lesbian students.
B.C. to add gay issues to school curriculum
Same-sex couple withdraw complaint after province agrees to offer course
Globe and Mail 2006/06/02
VANCOUVER -- The B.C. government is breaking new ground in education by adding gay and lesbian issues to the provincial curriculum, educators and equality advocates say.
"It's really a tremendous leap forward for the education system," said Peter Corren, who recommended curriculum changes to the government.
Mr. Corren, 59, and his partner Murray Corren, 60, launched a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal in 1999, objecting to the limited diversity taught in schools. Last month, they agreed to a settlement from the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of the Attorney-General, and they withdrew their complaint yesterday.
The settlement includes the introduction of a high-school course, to be drafted for September, 2007. "I think it shows how we're leading in a lot of areas," Attorney-General Wally Oppal said of the plan. "The idea is to teach the students more about diversity. By that I mean ethnicity, racism, gender issues, issues relating to sexual orientation."
Peter Corren said educators from around the province will design the course from scratch, as there has been nothing comparable elsewhere in Canada. The closest example, he said, is legislation that was recently passed in California requiring gay and lesbian history to be taught in schools, although Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected to veto the decision.
Peter Corren and his partner, who teaches in Coquitlam, charged in their complaint that the government has systemically discriminated by omitting mention of gay, lesbian and transgendered relationships in school curriculums.
In its settlement, the government promised not only to add an elective Grade 12 social-justice class, but also to conduct a general curriculum review, to see if similar content could be added in other areas. It also committed to amend an existing policy that allows students to opt out of compulsory subjects, such as sex education.
Peter Corren called current curriculum "heterosexist," and said that updates are also needed in other provinces. "It needs to reflect the values enshrined in the Charter and certainly by many new laws -- including the marriage one," he said.
The Correns, who were married two years ago, have led successful fights for equality in B.C. several times, including a campaign for the right to marry and campaigns against discriminatory adoption laws and a case of book-banning by the Surrey School Board.
"I would expect that a lot of provinces would probably be having a look at what we're doing today," Education Minister Shirley Bond said, applauding the couple's latest victory. The ministry emphasized the broad scope of the new course and the fact that it will be optional. Ms. Bond said it is still up to individual school districts to offer the course, and then it's up to the students to take it.
Jinny Sims, president of the B.C. Teachers' Federation, is delighted with the option. A social-justice course will encompass race, gender and poverty issues that students deal with, she said, and she called that "the right thing to do."
Charley Beresford, a trustee with the Victoria District School Board, echoed her sentiments. Under her lead, the school board was the first in B.C. to adopt an anti-homophobia policy a few years ago, she said. The policy was motivated by the death of a gay Vancouver man, Aaron Webster, who was beaten to death with a club in 2001.
"We should be taking every step we can to make everyone feel safe," Ms. Beresford said, mentioning a study released earlier this week by a B.C. adolescent health organization that found lesbian teens are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their heterosexual peers, and homosexual boys are more than twice as likely.
In 2004, the Vancouver School Board implemented a similar anti-homophobia policy and in May of this year, Ms. Beresford's school district launched an awareness campaign of the phrase "that's so gay," commonly used by schoolchildren.