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Canadian Province Braces for Controversy Over Pro-Gay Course, Materials

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday September 2, 2008

Schoolchildren in British Columbia are poised to learn about the social costs of bullying and homophobia thanks to a new high school elective and a classroom guide on diversity for that region's teachers.

But not everyone is happy to see the new material made available to teachers and students, reported The National Post in a Sept. 2 story.

Opponents have acted to smear the new teachers' resources as an "authoritarian" attempt to override parents' religious and moral convictions by requiring children to learn that gay individuals and families are normal.

The high school course, Social Justice 12, is an elective, not a requirement; the teaching guide, titled Making Space, Giving Voice, contains suggested activities and readings relevant not only to gays and lesbians, but also to ethnic and racial minorities and students who are, for other reasons, perceived as "different."

The materials come complete with new latitude for educators to discuss sexual and gender identity in class, reported The National Post, with the result that religious and social conservatives have blasted the new material.

But the elective course and the guidebook's material are not required for students and educators, and that leaves those who promote greater diversity education and more acceptance dissatisfied.

The new policies and materials are the result of a court case against the British Columbian government brought by married gay couple Murray and Peter Corren, whose case against the government claimed that the Ministry of Education had systematically suppressed GLBT material in the schools--which, their complaint said, was a form of discrimination.

As part of is settlement with the Correns, the government promised to look to "organizations or groups with expertise in sexual orientation, homophobia and other issues of inclusion of diversity in the curriculum," in the course of developing new educational material.

The result is the new high school elective, Social Justice 12, which does not focus entirely on sexuality issues, but also looks at consumerism, ageism, cultural imperialism, and even assumptions that the differently-abled may in some way be "handicapped," or that some forms of life are innately superior to others--a form of prejudice called speciesism.

In one sample reprinted by the National Post, the guide encouraged teachers to use Arthur Miller's play The Crucible, about the Salem witch trials, as an example of the perils posed by rumors and hysteria displacing reasoned and impartial judicial process, especially in the post-9/11 climate.

The lesson says, "Not understanding others or acting sanctimoniously or self-righteously will likely not bring about good will."

Murray Corren worked in the public schools as an elementary school teacher; as a consultant to the new material, he offered a perspective grounded in experience.

Said Murray Corren, "I've had parents pull their kids from my classes because I am openly gay."

But Murray Corren doesn't want any form of reverse discrimination to result from the settlement he and his husband pursued.

Still, if the Correns have trod a moderate path in the matter, anti-gay critics of the new policies have been less temperate; to them, the broad range of topics in the new elective are of less interest than the one or two that deal with sexual and gender identity issues.

A regional director for the Catholic Civil Rights League, Sean Murphy, criticized the teachers' guide book because, he said, it "authorizes the introduction of 'non-heterosexual realities' into every subject in the curriculum."

Added Murphy, "[Making Space, Giving Voice] is openly authoritarian and includes elements that are characteristic of education in an authoritarian state: isolation of students from parents, destruction of natural marriage and natural family and a methodology calculated to destroy the capacity to form and maintain convictions that are not approved by the state."

Because the book is a general guide available to educators at all levels, Murphy envisioned a scenario in which a math teacher turned a lesson to young children into a lesson on gay marriage, the article said.

Stated Murphy, "The guide suggests that teachers can use any class to inculcate children into homosexual conduct."

Added Murphy, "This is contrary to the idea that parents can remove children from courses they object to, because the subject can come up at any time."

At the same time, the actions of the Minister of Education, Shirley Bond, suggest a measure of unwillingness to engage in dialogue about the issue; The National Post's article said that the Minister had ordered government staff not to discuss the settlement with the media, and had declined interview requests.

The Minister also signed the new measures into effect only recently, giving the public little time to react.

The late approval of the new material means that it may not even show up in British Columbian schools this year, the National Post reported. Additionally, Bond has yet to approve the guide, Making Space, Giving Voice, the article reported.

But in Vancouver, Victoria, and other cities in the region, such materials may not have a great impact on sexuality and gender identity issues anyway; the article reported that in certain high schools, restrooms for transgendered students are already provided.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.