Burnaby Parents Will Fight for Their Kids’ Right to Discriminate Against LGBT Students

A group of parents in British Columbia are planning to hold a protest later this evening over the Burnaby school district’s proposed anti-discrimination policy. Of course that policy is about stopping the discrimination against lesbian, gay, bi, and trans students. It must be Tuesday!

One of Burnaby's High Schools

The rationale behind protesting a policy meant to protect people is, apparently, that the parent’s weren’t told about it in advance, and haven’t been given enough specific information on what their kids will be learning about homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexism. Whether or not parents are informed, via a notice home, about every other policy decision the school board makes is unclear, but they probably don’t.

In an interview with the Vancouver Sun, board chairman Larry Hayes said that while the board could have tried to involve parents more, the deadline for the project has been extended to June 3 to give them time for feedback, but having the policy is still important and “part of creating a safe, caring, and respectful environment for all of our students.”

The reaction from those planning to protest will warm your heart. With rage. A few of them include:

+ “I have two young children in the school system and I don’t want any adult to look at them in a sexual way. Whether or not my daughter is heterosexual or a lesbian is none of their business and adults must never look at my children that way.” —James Gray, a parent, in the National Post

+ The policy is a “deliberate and systematic strategy to indoctrinate our children with a controversial moral teaching that should be left for families to decide on and wrestle through.” —Heather Leung, parent, in he National Post

+ “We feel that receiving education about the details of this lifestyle should be left up to the individual choice of students and parents.” —statement from the B.C. Muslim Association, in the Vancouver Sun

Or course, one of the problems with homophobia spanning generations is exactly that talking about it is left to the choices of students and parents.

So far there have been several meetings to discuss the proposed policy, and all of them have been packed with parents opposing it. Some, like Leung, seem in need of a little anti-discrimination “indoctrination” themselves. Others, like Gray, agree there’s a problem but still would rather be left to deal with it on their own. After learning gay, lesbian, bi or trans students are 16 times more likely to commit suicide than straight students, Gray said, “Having a suicide rate like that is absolutely unacceptable and there must be a way to find a solution.” But he still also had less than fantastic ideas about what learning about transphobia, homophobia, and heterosexism might entail.

When it comes to schools and anything to do with sexuality or sex education or really, anything with the word “sex” somewhere in the picture, people — and by “people” I mean “overly sensitive conservative parent types blind in the face of change” — seem to move very quickly from looking at something meant to help people to thinking that it means the organization in question is trying to prey on their kids, or turn them gay, or teach them about being gay in a way that will somehow be harmful.

While the rationale behind the “you will turn my precious angel gay” argument is unquestionably idiotic, the logical leaps people make to get there make a little more sense. Learning about gay people — ie, that they exist and it’s OK, without even talking about all the residual perks, such as historical contributions to society and the possibility of better haircuts — tends to make people feel better about being gay. Sometimes, it can help them feel better about coming out. To the concerned parent type in this equation, it looks like learning about being gay equals becoming gay, when in fact, the actual gay person was gay all along, she just didn’t know it, or didn’t say it.

While it might have been oversight, or misplaced faith in humanity, that led the school district to not inform parents of the new policy, it also seems more than a little like homophobia is driving their reaction. Which only proves that anti-discrimination policies are needed even more.

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Ryan Yates

Ryan Yates was the NSFW Editor (2013–2018) and Literary Editor for Autostraddle.com, with bylines in Nylon, Refinery29, The Toast, Bitch, The Daily Beast, Jezebel, and elsewhere. They live in Los Angeles and also on twitter and instagram.

Ryan has written 1142 articles for us.


  1. Another strike for Canada this fair month. Sigh. Is it naive of me to assume this couldn’t still be possible in this country?

  2. can canada stop being america for like 5 mins please? idk what the western half of this country is smoking but its clearly not decriminalized weed.

  3. + “I have two young children in the school system and I don’t want any adult to look at them in a sexual way. Whether or not my daughter is heterosexual or a lesbian is none of their business and adults must never look at my children that way.” —James Gray, a parent, in the National Post”

    I think this is the problem, I really do. Parents think “gay” and thinks about the actual sex part, which they do not want their kids to be thinking about, or doing or assume the school is going to be telling gay kids its ok to have sex.

    The other arguments about “learning about the gays will automatically make my child gay” are obviously as stupid as they’ve always been. It’s as stupid as bullies thinking that someone can be bullied into being straight. But the idea that this means some parents either don’t get or care that by opposing this they are just as godd as calling for instituionalised bullying is terrible.

    I guess it’s the same with whatever social change is starting to happen, people panic like the often used example of racism, and integrated schools. I know it’s awful to hear about stories like these and the crazies in the news, but I’m trying to believe instituionalised Homophobia is is beginning its last death rattle before dying in general public consiousness. It’s why all the crazy people are the only ones talking at the moment.

    • “It looks like learning about being gay equals becoming gay, when in fact, the actual gay person was gay all along, she just didn’t know it, or didn’t say it.”

      My mom thought if she couldn’t intimidate me into being straight, she could at least intimidate me into pretending to be straight. Later my MIL tried doing the same thing. This is why I finally decided to come out, I will never give someone that power over me again. The reality is you can’t make someone be straight, but you can make me feel really shitty about not being straight.

      • Yeah, one thing I’m not looking forward to about dating guys, especially if I get into a long-term relationship with one, is people assuming that means I’m now “straight.” Nope. Bisexual and always will be.

        (I mean I know people do that to bi people with same-sex partners, too, assuming this means they’re now “gay,” but I somehow find that less offensive. Biphobia is bad enough but biphobia coupled with homophobia is awful…)

    • I agree with that last part there. Mom always tells me how I cant go anywheres in the LGBTQ community to youth meetings or anything, “They might take advantage of you.”, she says.

  4. My country makes me sad some times. I learned heterosexuality exclusively in the Canadian public school system and I graduated gay. Oops.

    I think we need to send parents back to school for an eduction in “statistically there’s a chance your kid is gay so lets reconsider denying them useful information and support”. One can only hope they’d come out singing a different (more fabulous) tune.

  5. WTF??????
    This is my backyard!!! My backyard. If I wasn’t away in Europe right now I’d be planning on doing something about this. Like… going there with some other queers and queer allies to try to open up discussion with the protesters. I want to understand these people. More so, I want them to understand me. And if that is to happen, I have to understand them. So you see what I’m saying. Discussion.

    But you are totes right about the misguided homophobia. I feel like the parents need to be presented with these options:
    1) Anti-homophobia education rejected: straight kids go on as being straight. Gay kids sad and are bullied.
    2) Anti-homophobia education accepted: straight kids go on being straight, but more compassionate towards people who are different than them. Gay kids happy and bullied less.

    I don’t think any religious parent would dare choose number 1 if it was presented to them like this.

    • i know right?! wtf am i gonna do now? i didn’t plan this far ahead, there is no plan c!

  6. By this logic, I wonder if learning about really tall people will suddenly make me grow an extra ten inches?

    • Or would learning about unicorns suddenly allow me to grow sparkly white hair and attract lots of gay women? CAUSE THAT WOULD BE AWESOME

  7. Ah! I have so many feelings about this!
    Number one, I don’t know why I didn’t know about this sooner. I live right by here, and deliver the local paper (which I obviously don’t read…)
    Number two, I have to work tonight so I can’t even go to counter-protest, or just be a friendly gay.
    Number three, you wouldn’t even think homophobia was a big deal in this area, if it wasn’t for this article. I mean, obviously its always happening and people have their opinions but a protest? I thought we were done with this…
    Number four, this is definitely something Canada can do move in the right (left?) direction. While we have marriage equality, adoption, etc., education is the next important step.
    Anywho…all I have to say for now…

    • #3 – Yeah, definitely. Wasn’t BC like the first province to have full gay marriage rights?

  8. Now that I have kids in my care, shit like this makes me rage so freaking hard. Like, I can barely put it into words. How can someone who is a parent want to deny a child protection and education? Especially when it’s something that does NO HARM to your own child??

  9. ugggghh canada…. this makes me wanna throw up…. all over you…. seriously!! especially in bc and especially in burnaby!!1 like come on! holy cow! also yeahh second major blow for canada this month!…im all sorts of sad and angry now but im happy i heard this on the computer instead of throwing something at my tv… goddd! and i may be a teacher soon in junior high and highschool…. i seriously dont want parents like this… but will probably have a few

  10. This seems so bizarre to me. The (Canadian!) school division that I was brought up in, Winnipeg School Division No. 1, was known for their anti-homophobia education. I don’t know too much about it since it was introduced in 1999 (pre me reading newspapers), but it involved comparing the struggle against homophobic bullying to other human rights issues. And yeah, they ran up against major opposition, including from parents of kids in other divisions, or who had kids in private school but still felt the need to actively oppose the program.

    And I just found an article about it!

    The moral of this story is, I grew up in schools in Canada, knew gay people existed, had health lessons about both gay and straight sex and appropriate protection, and generally was okay with the gays. I don’t see in any way how this was a bad thing.

    • (another) sad day for Canada.

      Also, to my shock and awe, I have decided that AS is overrun with Winnipeggers.

  11. “I have two young children in the school system and I don’t want any adult to look at them in a sexual way. Whether or not my daughter is heterosexual or a lesbian is none of their business and adults must never look at my children that way.” —James Gray, a parent, in the National Post

    MOTHERFUCK, gays are not pedophiles!!! I cannot deal with the amount of ignorant, hateful homophobia in this world. We are going to have to push and push and educate these people and take our civil rights whether they like it or not before any of this will begin to change.


    • I don’t get the sense Gray thinks gays are pedophiles; I mean, he seems open to the idea that his daughter might be a lesbian. But he seems to think discussing homophobia would entail kids being forced to admit their orientations and discuss sex, which is still a problem. I mean, my mom explained homosexuality to me at age 6 without mentioning sex. Kids know what romance is. Not rocket science. Also, if this is at a high school, shouldn’t they be learning sex ed anyway?

      Also, I find it naive of him that he thinks that kids need to admit their orientations for a pedophile teacher to take advantage of them. It’s about power, not love; orientation doesn’t matter to a potential child sex offender. First of all, society assumes you to be straight if you haven’t come out as something else; it’s not like if you don’t talk about it, you’re seen as a blank slate.

    • I didn’t necessarily think that he was stating or consciously thinks that gays are pedophiles. I do think that his line of thinking stems from that “idea” that has been tossed around for who knows how long.

      • Yeah, you’re right that it stems from that. Most people recognize “gays are pedos” is an offensive, discredited stereotype, but don’t have the intelligence to realize that still-common stereotypes like “talking about homosexuality = talking about sex” is rooted in that.

    • I’m really confused how knowing your kid is gay = thinks of them in a sexual way (and how they don’t do that if the kid is straight). There’s no link between the two. But I totally think it’s tied to the idea that gays are pedophiles, it’s just that he has no reasoning skills to speak of and the concept of logic is foreign to him.

  12. I think when parents prove that they can do a good job teaching kids themselves about homophobia, biphobia and transphobia, then schools can leave it up to them. As it stands, their kids are bullying LGBT kids to the point of suicide, so they’re clearly not doing a good job.

    Sorry, parents, it stopped being an individual matter when OTHER people’s kids had to deal with the consequences of what you “teach” your kids.

    • Case in point: My parents made it clear to me from the time homosexuality/bisexuality was first explained to me (at age 6) that there was nothing wrong with it, and people who thought there was were the ones who were wrong. It didn’t matter; most of the kids in my middle school were homophobic, and in high school it was still far enough out of the norm that someone as weird as me didn’t want to be seen as any weirder. I didn’t come out as bi until college.

      Pro-gay parents don’t get a choice. Whether their kids are gay, bi or straight, trans or cis, they learn anti-LGBT hate from the culture. If the loving people don’t get a chance to shelter their kids from hate, the hateful people DEFINITELY shouldn’t get a chance to shelter their kids from loving attitudes.

  13. Why are people so worried about their children being exposed to the realities of other gender/sexual identities in public schools? I mean, it’s a school; they’re probably more focused on the Periodic Table and rhetorical devices. And if they aren’t, then maybe they should be petitioning wasted tax dollars?

    P.S. Even if we WERE talking straight-up Sex Education, we can’t even properly teach heterosexual couples a comprehensive list of safe sex practices. “JUS DONT DO IT LOLOLLL; NO SEX IS BEST SEX!!!!!1111”

    • Actually Canadian schools are able to teach kids about safe sex practices, and have been for a while. I remember in ’05, we got taught the correct way to put a condom on a fake wooden penis (I know, best choice of material ever). We also learned about lots of other birth-control and STD preventative measures. This included “abstinence” but it was mentioned as just another birth control technique.

      In this same class too (we had a whole semester-long class for things like sex-ed and job-preparedness), there was mention of homosexuality. And we did have a guest from the Vancouver LGBT center talk about homophobia as part of their “Out in Schools” program. I think you had to get a permission slip from your parents to attend class that day. Or maybe not!? Can’t quite remember.

  14. Another thing,
    I can’t speak for the Burnaby school District, but the Coquitlam school district (right beside it) has a pretty comprehensive Heterosexual Sex-Ed curriculum. It even starts in elementary school!
    So I don’t really understand how incorporating a little LGBT awareness into this would not logically follow? I mean, they’re learning about sex anyways, so the “sexualizing schools” argument doesn’t really apply…

  15. I grew up in the Burnaby School district, and while I did see a fair amount of bullying and homophobic slurs thrown around, there were many people who tried to create a safe space for LGBT students there. They’re continuing to do so, and while these parents may be fighting the creation of a tolerant environment in the schools, there are many more who are standing in solidarity with the LGBT community right now. They’re the ones who made high school bearable for me.

    This area in particular has a lot of first generation immigrants (as I was when I first came to Burnaby), and the Churches in the area that mobilized to urge parents to oppose this policy have a disproportionate number of new Canadians who perhaps didn’t have the benefit of tolerance and anti-discrimination policies in their native countries. I’m not trying to manufacture an excuse for their homophobia, merely a reason that this kind of surprising backlash is occurring in the usually progressive place of Greater Vancouver, since for the most part I’ve found people to be accepting of my sexual orientation (with exceptions of course). At the same time, its sad to see that individuals who themselves may be the victims of discrimination (in their case as a result of ethnicity) band together in order to oppress another minority.

    • “At the same time, its sad to see that individuals who themselves may be the victims of discrimination (in their case as a result of ethnicity) band together in order to oppress another minority.”

      Trust, the higher ups are laughing their asses off as we minions skirmish amongst ourselves. Maybe after these people are living in Canada a while they will fully comprehend the power structure, and grasp that it is largely their fellow wonderful heteros at the pinnacle of the pyramid who are rigging the game so that immigrants stay down at the base.

      Gays out there: if you’re aggravated by hetero members of marginalized groups hating on us, do not do the same. I heard an ignorant white bisexual guy ripping on Haitian people. My friend and I seriously had to step-by-step break it down on what a dumbass he was being, and he still did not comprehend. If you are ignorant of a culture, fine. Learn. There’s different people on Earth, grasp the concept.

    • I could not agree with you more. Having grown up in the Burnaby School District and now being a parent of a child attending a Burnaby school, I was both shocked and disappointed that parents were planning a protest against a policy of anti-bullying against all people, including LGBT people.

  16. Oh, Canada. I’m so disappointed in you. I was going to go to Germany anyway, but you were a nice back-up plan if all else failed. I guess failure is not an option, eh?

    So, Germany. Who’s with me? We can buy some land and start our own Autostraddle commune! …Well, okay, I’m probably going to end up in a tiny apartment in a major city, but we can still meet up for drinks or something, right?

    • I’m with you! I’m hoping for a tiny apartment in Berlin, as I’ve heard that’s where all the ladies are. see you there

  17. Thanks for this article! WTF Burnaby, being nice to other people is not a ‘controversial moral teaching.’

  18. “B.C. Muslim Association” LOL. Fun fact! In Urdu, a swear meaning sister-fucker is commonly abbreviated as BC.

    “We feel that receiving education about the details of this lifestyle should be left up to the individual choice of students and parents.”

    Yes. Obviously should be left up to these people. They make some very, very wise choices.

  19. I live outside Burnaby in the Fraser Valley and these are my thoughts on the situation and every other like it:

    Bigotry is the backbone of the fight AGAINST human rights – morality is the fictional defence bigots use to rationalize this fight. Such extremists will excuse their vitriol as instilling principles in their children rather than leaving a legacy of ignorance.

  20. Can everyone just breathe for a moment and stop lumping one incident in one school district of hundreds in a province as “Canada” being homophobic?

    Even though our government is right-wing’ed, same-sex couples can legally marry. Hey, I’ll bet even the Netherlands has homophobia even though they’ve been the most progressive country for a long time.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m equally infuriated by what’s happening, not only because I’m a lesbian but also because I’m Asian. I think it’s hypocritical and disgusting that right-wing, conservative Asians are so vocal against this without bothering to stop for a minute to find out what the Burnaby School Board is proposing (read it here: http://sd41.bc.ca/budgets_policies/pdf/policies/545.pdf)

    But please, don’t start unpacking those boxes or change plans on moving here (as some have suggested in their comments) because no matter where you go, it will be an issue. Racism is still an issue and yet it doesn’t stop people from moving to another country in the hopes of finding better opportunities.


    • yeah i get what youre saying but at some point people need to wake up and realize touting that we are the progressive hippy country we think we are just isnt the case when stories like this become more frequent. i love canada but it scares me to even fathom our country ever so slowly gravitating towards certain other countries’s social policies.

      its sort of like if a city that was traditionally multicultural and everyone got along peacefully etc etc and then 20 years later they start having hate crimes on a regular basis toward minorities (this acutally has occured im sure). to still consider themselves minority loving city would just be denial of the problem.

  21. I work for a family company and my boss has several kids that are always hanging around the office. The other day one of the kids told me they didn’t like gays, they have never met someone who was gay and they didn’t want to be around anybody that was. I kept my mouth shut about my own sexuality because in Florida it’s legal to fire someone based on their sexual orientation.
    This is the reason why these programs need to be in place. If this kind of thing were left up to the parents we would have more children growing up with this type of mentality.

  22. + “We feel that receiving education about the details of this lifestyle should be left up to the individual choice of students and parents.”

    …its a lifestyle apparently.

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