British Columbia

B.C. anti-bullying policies to reflect all colours of the rainbow

Anti-bullying policies in all schools in British Columbia will soon have to include explicit references to sexual orientation and gender identity.

In B.C. schools will have to incorporate lessons about sexual orientation in anti-bullying messages

Anti-bullying days need to have a gender component in B.C. (CBC)

Anti-bullying policies in all schools in British Columbia will soon have to include explicit references to sexual orientation and gender identity.

Education Minister Mike Bernier announced Thursday that school districts and independent schools will have until the end of the year to update their anti-bullying policies.

Bernier became choked up while speaking about his daughter, who he said was now in her mid-20s but came out as gay when she was 19.

"At that time, (she) was telling me all the problems she had when she was in school," he said.

"For today, it really makes it important for me in a personal way, but it also gives me a real sense of what other people have been going through."

Critics say change too long coming

Schools in B.C. have been required to have general anti-bullying policies since the ERASE Bullying strategy was introduced in 2012.

Now, those policies will have to include explicit references to sexual orientation and gender identity, if they do not already.

NDP critics say the policy change hs been too long in coming, long urged and largely ignored.

"For years, Christy Clark's government said that protections for sexual orientation was not an issue. Had she put these protections in earlier, we could have protected many young people from violence and bullying," said NDP MLA Spencer Chandra Herbert.

B.C. Human Rights Code amended in July

Justice Minister Suzanne Anton said the changes will bring the policies in line with amendments to the B.C. Human Rights Code made in July that protect gender identity and expression.

The B.C. Liberal government refused to introduce the amendments to the Human Rights Code for years, rejecting a private member's bill to add the language four times before suddenly reversing course this summer.

The ARC Foundation, an anti-discrimination organization based in Vancouver, is also funding a new sexual orientation and gender identity education advisor position to help districts and schools develop their policies.

Glen Hansman, president of the B.C. Teachers' Federation, said when he was growing up as a queer youth in Ontario, it wasn't safe to come out. The new rules in B.C. mean the onus will be on the school community to support any student who chooses to do so, he said.

The Federation of Independent School Associations B.C. also supports the initiative to protect LGBTQ students in anti-bullying policies.

Federation president Doug Lauson said all independent schools in the province have had policies that include protections for sexual orientation since June.

The announcement today means the words "gender identity and expression" will have to be added, and he doesn't expect religious schools to object, he said.

"The Catholic schools in particular do not have a problem with this policy, because it's all about protection of children. It's not about religious values or anything like that," he said.

"It's about protection of children from bullying, so I don't anticipate any objection to this policy."

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