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Surrey hopes to close the book on homophobia

Student Anthony Hope was part of a group that helped establish an anti-homophobia regulation in the Surrey School District. - Leader file photo
Student Anthony Hope was part of a group that helped establish an anti-homophobia regulation in the Surrey School District.
— image credit: Leader file photo

Thursday was a big night for Anthony Hope.

The Surrey student was on-hand as school trustees gave their unanimous approval to an anti-homophobia regulation.

"It's very validating for me because it signals that the board does care about students like me and students who are LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning), or have gay or lesbian parents or gender identity issues," said Hope. "The board is recognizing this and saying that it's okay."

Prior to coming out, he said, there were times he felt it was far from okay to be gay. He hated himself and was afraid because everything he read about homosexuality seemed to be negative. But when a friend committed suicide as a result of gay bashing, Hope took action.

He was among a group that approached the Surrey Board of Education a year ago, calling for the school district to establish an anti-homophobia policy. A committee comprised of teachers, district staff, parents and students was struck almost immediately, spending months forming a stand-alone regulation aimed at supporting "students, staff and community members of all sexual orientations or gender identities."

Hope said while the subject is often an emotional one, everyone came to the table with passion and with an open mind. He believes the regulation will spark classroom conversations and result in greater openness and acceptance.

"We're moving forward and it's going to counteract the history of Surrey and hopefully change the perception," said Hope.

The history he refers to goes back more than a decade – but is one that haunts the school district.

It began in 1997 when a primary teacher named James Chamberlain asked the board of the day to approved three children's books featuring same-sex parents. His request was denied, sparking legal action that spanned years, divided the community, garnered national attention and proceeded all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada.

On Thursday, Chamberlain, now a vice-principal in Vancouver, said he was "cautiously optimistic" about Surrey's new regulation.

"A regulation or policy is only as good as the paper it's written on unless you have a really good implementation policy," he said. "Because of their history and the perpetuation of homophobia by previous trustees… there's a bigger onus on Surrey."

Jordan Tinney, deputy superintendent, acknowledged there remains much work to be done in the fall, including developing staff resources and training programs, educating students and parents about the regulation and weaving it into age-appropriate curriculum.

He lauded the committee members, in particular the youth, for their dedication, noting there were many long, open and frank conversations before pens were put to paper.

"The impact of the student voice at the table was significant and substantial," said Tinney.

"We hope this will close one or more books on our history…and show we're ready to move forward."

There are 23 other school districts in B.C. that have also established anti-homophobia regulations and policies.

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