Two elementary teachers at West Park School in Altona, MB received complaints from parents over their display of “ally” cards in their classrooms. The cards stated that they had received training at the Rainbow Resource Centre in Winnipeg, a not-for-profit LBGT support, advocacy and educational outreach organization. The Rainbow Resource Centre has existed in some form for the last 40 years, starting as a University of Manitoba student group.
The cards on display in the teachers’ classrooms identify the teachers as “allies,” part of a youth-created movement started in 2005 to empower young people to fight against anti-LGBT behavior and sentiments in their schools. Being an ally means standing up against bigoted behavior independent of one’s own orientation.
Amongst other things the cards read, “As an Ally, I support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, Two-Spirit, intersex, queer and questioning individuals, families and communities. As an Ally, I will work towards a more aware, affirming, safe and open work environment in both policy and practice.”
The complaining parents in the small town have been described as Christian, and religious motivation may therefore play a part in their objections. In response to these complaints, the school has decided to take down the text of the message, but leave the image of the LGBT rainbow flag intact. We have a petition in place directed towards the school division superintendent, to allow the teachers to display the complete flags (available at the bottom of this article).
An editorial appears in both the Winnipeg and Toronto Suns, defending the school’s decision to censor the teachers. It makes a number of suspect points I would like to respond to:
“We have to sign hundreds of petitions to allow religious exercises in school,” parent Kim Peters Sawatzky told the Red River Valley Echo. “We should treat this situation in the same way, as it seems to be just as controversial.”
Controversy isn’t the point. Religion is not appropriate in a public school for the same reason equity is. The fact of the matter is, our schools do have a political agenda, of which LGBT support is a part and officially sanctioned prayer is not.
I’ll say this again because it’s important. Our schools have a political agenda.
This agenda includes teaching young people the skills they need for democratic citizenship. It includes teaching the scientific facts, regardless of whether some religious people disagree. It includes teaching open-mindedness and inclusion.
Yes, inclusion. Go to any divisional website and read over their policies. Inclusion — be it for the disabled, members of ethnic minorities, individuals of different sexual orientations, or members of different religions (or no religion) — is a fundamental goal of Manitoba schools.
Bringing sectarian religion into a school is divisive and exclusionary. Promoting LGBT rights is inclusionary.
If teachers are going to post notices indicating everything they are not prejudiced against, schools will soon have to eliminate chalkboards. That way, educators will have sufficient wall space to let kids know they’re not racist, anti-Semitic or fans of ‘Kick a Ginger Day’.
The writer is playing it safe in this article, avoiding overt bigotry and instead arguing, “Do we really need it thrown in our faces like this?” The answer is yes. If it makes you uncomfortable you need to get used to it. More importantly, the next generation needs to get used to all kinds of different people and lifestyles, and the younger, the better.
As to why LGBT and not anti-racism, anti-religious discrimination, anti-sexism, well, no one’s saying that. All of these are in accordance with inclusion, and four or five posters is hardly going to necessitate the elimination of chalkboards. But LGBT is a younger movement, and overt anti-LGBT prejudice is still a rampant problem compared to other kinds of discrimination. The very fact that people are complaining shows there is still a need for explicit support of LGBT rights.
This card is literally a sign of political correctness run amok.
The idea that parents would be offended at the promise of a teacher to support all her students without discrimination is a sign that our world is neither morally nor politically correct. It’s bigotry like this that these loving and supportive teachers hope to protect the children in their charge from.
Please sign the petition.
Photo credit: Ludovic Bertron