It doesn’t look like the controversy over Premier Higgs’ decision to review Policy 713 is going to go away anytime soon. But with so many people, including from within his own cabinet and caucus coming to the defence of the policy and against the Premier’s intention to weaken it, you would hope he’s getting the message that his outdated thinking is the root of the problem.
I have to be honest here and admit that I don’t even know what the letters beyond the “ T” in LGBTQIA2+ stand for, but what I do understand, is that the teen years aren’t easy, and they are especially difficult for kids who don’t fit the mold of what we consider “normal”. In fact, life can be so challenging that the suicide rate among gay youth is 3 times the average for their age, and for trans kids that jumps to 5 times. For many of these kids, life is tough.
So given this, it’s understandable why so many people are opposed to any change that may diminish the school’s ability to be an inclusive and respectful safe haven for them. And any change that will require teachers to “out” kids who take the step to confide in them as a trusted adult, is not a change for the better.
It’s pretty doubtful now that there were ever “hundreds” of complaints, as claimed by the Premier and the Minister of Education. There are though, some 15-thousand or so signatures on a petition initiated by former Saint John Mayor Don Darling against any changes to Policy 713. The New Brunswick Association of Social Workers has also come out in support. And as referenced earlier, there are a growing number of Premier Higgs own cabinet and caucus speaking in defence of Policy 713. Especially on point are the remarks by Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Jeff Carr. But perhaps most encouraging are the demonstrations, including at schools, where a large cross-section of students are standing up beside their directly affected fellow-students in a sign of solidarity and inclusiveness. That’s a positive step I couldn’t imagine happening back when I was in high school.
I do see some support the Premier’s position that parents have a right to know what their child is up to at school. Usually, this is along the lines of parents saying they would certainly want to know if their kid is struggling with his or her sexual identity. I get that, I would want to know too, but the truth of the matter is that some parents can’t handle the truth, and that is the problem.
There was a time when Premier Higgs said politicians shouldn’t interfere with the professionals in our education system. Given he is now interfering, I guess he doesn’t believe that anymore. But this is particularly a case where the judgement of a teacher or guidance counsellor should be respected. To those who say parents have a right to know, I’d say let’s give the professionals the benefit of the doubt to use their best judgement in the rare cases where they feel the consequences for outing a child to his or her parents could be drastic. Let’s not cut off that important link to a responsible adult a student feels comfortable confiding in.
On this whole issue of informing the parents, I want to mention a Letter to the Editor in Wednesday’s Daily Gleaner, where the writer, someone named Sylvia Hale, suggests we are trying to find answers to the wrong problem. She makes the point that diversity isn’t the social problem, bullying is, and it is some of the “straight” kids we need to worry about. Quoting now “These are the kids who reject diversity, who think it is OK to threaten or pick on others different from themselves, who engage in online bullying, who gang up on other kids in school washrooms and playgrounds. These are the kids that teachers need to call out – the kids that need to learn that their behaviour is unacceptable, who need mental health counseling in school. It is the parents of the bullies who need to be informed that their children are engaging in hurtful behaviour.”
If I was still a parent of a kid in school, that’s behaviour I’d certainly want to know about. And, maybe teachers do make those calls, I would hope so. The writer of the letter reminds me that the real problem here isn’t that there are LGBT and whatever students, the problem is how too many of us react to them. There’s a lesson to be learned here about acceptance. Why do so many find that so damn difficult?
So where from here? Premier Higgs in his earlier statements showed that he doesn’t really understand the issue or the pain and stress his review has caused. He may be stubborn but he’s not stupid. And because of that, I suspect he understands the issue better now.
So his choice is to either double down and push for the changes he wants anyway, or admit that he was wrong in pushing for this review. Unfortunately, the ability to admit a mistake isn’t something often found in a politician’s DNA, as it’s seen as a sign of weakness. That’s faulty logic, but that’s kind of what got him into this mess in the first place. To save face, he needs to let Education Minister Bill Hogan finish his review. But after that, here’s to hoping he raises to the occasion, admits he was wrong, doesn’t weaken the protections Policy 713 was developed to address, and moves on to issues that really do need government attention. I have a list if that’s helpful.
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