Opinion Letters

Applauding effort to make school safe and inclusive

Rev. Dr. Lesley Fox, St. Andrew's River Heights United Church; former minister of Altona United Church

I am writing to applaud the efforts of the staff of West Park Elementary School in Altona for trying to create a safe and inclusive environment for their student body. Sadly, the recent barrage of homophobic rants and vitriolic criticism of staff members at the school has left in its wake more re-victimization of LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning, intersex) youth in this community. How do I know this? As a past leader in a faith community in this community, I have often had occasion to be visited by LGBTQI youth who have struggled with ostracism, vicious taunts, and blatant prejudice. For many, the recent furor over the Ally cards has left them feeling victimized all over again by their community of origin. We should all find that to be disturbingly said. Shame on us.

Some parents have indicated that they should have the final word on educational curricula. I believe, as a Mennonite community, we have been through this debate before. Those who did not approve of Canadian educational standards disappeared to other parts of the globe in the WWI era, in order to provide for a different education. The public schools must never be cowed by majority rule. Remember, majorities approved of slavery, sexism, racism, anti-semitism, and all forms of prejudice in our past. And, yes, it was a majority that yelled, "crucify him".

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child clearly state that parents may not always act in the best interests of their children. Children should be actively engaged in a dialogue with their peers and with their educators about the issues that concern them. Article 12 indicates that when adults are making decisions that affect children, those children have the right to say what they think would happen and have their opinions taken into account. Claims by parents that discussion of LGBTQI issues are not "age appropriate" compromise the ability for children to speak on behalf of themselves. We should never undermine the intelligence of children to comprehend concepts surrounding sexual identity. I had occasion to sit in on a Sunday School classroom in our faith community this past weekend, and every young person in that room was familiar with LGBTQI concerns, everyone except for the lone adult.

My hope is that parents will cease and desist from haranguing and harassing our educators in community who have been so faithful in teaching lessons on tolerance, respect, and inclusion of all. Feel free to direct your barbs against me instead. I would also like to reiterate to the LGBTQI youth in Altona and area that you have a friend in me. You do not stand alone. My family, my faith community, and I stand with you, and we will continue to stand with the most vulnerable persons in our society continuing to love one another as Christ Jesus first loved us.