Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Pallister CON Kelvin Goertzen vs Gay Rights

Pallister CON and anti-bullying Bill 18 opponent
Kelvin Goertzen.

Image Source: The Manitoba Chambers
of Commerce
Warning: Image with explicit language below page-break.

Well, I've been quite an infrequent conventional blogger as of 2013, but have made up for it with a shift to microblogging (twitter). And, boy oh boy, is there some unsettling stuff you can find there.

Pallister CON and MLA for Steinbach Kelvin Goertzen has led the charge against Bill 18, a Manitoba anti-bullying bill, as education critic. The religious far-right and religious schools in Manitoba (which receive 50% of their funding from us, the public) are livid over this piece of legislation.

While there's some concerns over "vagueness" when it comes to the definition of bullying, much of the outbursts are over a specific clause that gives accommodation for gay-straight alliances. 
Bill 18 would give gay-straight alliances
the right to be accommodated within Manitoba

Image Source: Colby Melvin

Let's examine section 41(1.8) of Bill 18 -  fully named The Public Schools Amendment Act (Safe and Inclusive Schools):

Student activities and organizations

41(1.8) A respect from human diversity policy must accommodate pupils who want to establish and lead activities and organizations that

(a) promote
(i) gender equity,
(ii) antiracism,
(iii) the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people who are disabled by barriers, or
(iv) the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities; and

(b) use the name "gay-straight alliance" or any other name that is consistent with the promotion of a positive school environment that is inclusive and accepting of all pupils.

("Bill 18: The Public Schools Amendment Act (Safe and Inclusive Schools)". 2nd session, 4040 Legislature of Manitoba)
The Orwellian named "Protect Our Schools" is a website founded by opponents of the safe and inclusive schools measures. Goertzen has mentioned emails he's received coming from "Protect Our Schools" with concerns over "religious freedom" and has frequently brought up the concept of "religious freedom" or religious charter rights in twitter exchanges I've had with him.

In December, the Manitoba Provincial Government introduced Bill 18. While the government says the Bill is about combating bullying it does much more than that. Portions of the Bill could require schools, including faith based independent schools, to act in ways that are against their values and beliefs.

Bill 18 requires schools to accommodate and promote student groups that have values and beliefs in direct contradiction to many faith based independent schools and in contradiction to the communities many public schools are located.

Bullying, justified by religious bigotry or not, is
an ugly reality for many Manitobans.

Image Source:
Youth Guide
("Protect Our Schools")

This is the "religious freedom" and "Charter rights" concerns the "Protect Our Schools" folk have in mind. It seems that voluntary gay-straight alliances are just too much for Manitoba's religious far-right. They infringe on "religious freedom", somehow. Kelvin Goertzen is treating this a as serious, Charter Freedom concerns. Yet the Manitoba CONs fought, with strident rhetoric, in favour of involuntarily forcing religious (and political) objectors to attend certain assemblies. For some odd reason they displayed considerably less sensitivity to "religious freedom" then. Perhaps voluntary groups are just that much more intrusive than involuntary mandates to attend assemblies?

The Pallister CONs as a whole haven't decided where they'll land on the issue of gay-straight alliances. Brian Pallister states they're "concerned that the bill work for all children, not specifically concerned with a sub-set of the students of our province".

 'cause gay students don't face unique challenges, eh?

In the event you think this is a non-issue, gay-straight alliance organizers face obstacles with obstructionist school administrators in parts of southern Manitoba. Evan Wiens, for instance, was barred from setting up posters for a gay-straight alliance in a Steinbach school by his principal (a right afforded to other student groups). In some religious schools, starting up a gay-straight alliance is unthinkable given the atmosphere.

Yet the difference gay-straight alliances can make in the life of students is immense.A 2011 survey indicated that 20.8% of LGTBQ high school students in Canada have be bullied, compared to 7.9% of the non-LGTBQ population. Dakota Collegiate student Xavier Raddysh credits his schools gay-straight alliance with saving his life.Clearly, many Manitoba schools - secular or religious - could use this vital service.

Manitoba Conservative
Leader Brian Pallister

Image Source:Trevor Hagan/Winnipeg
Free Press

But it is this very crucial, life-saving work for a "sub-set" of students that certain religious school administrators have problems with. They don't want to have to accommodate supportive spaces due to "religious values". Goertzen and Pallister talk about "serving all students" as if providing a safe environment for a specifically threatened group of student isn't that important. It's as if providing a safe and inclusive school, which requires some specifically aimed measures, doesn't help everyone become better people in the long run.

US political observers will notice some unsettling parallels here. The excuse of "religious freedom" has been used not out of genuine concern for freedom but out of a need to rationalize bigotry and discrimination. The religious right of the United States emerged as a movement due to attempts to desegregate religious schools by the US Government in the 1970s. The religious schools of the southern United States, quite like the religious schools of today's southern Manitoba, didn't like the government enforcing the rights of minorities. But it had to be done, kicking and screaming, contra John Long type concerns over "provoking" religious schools.Sometimes the preservation of equal rights for all requires standing up against entrenched, religiously-rationalized interests.    

Yet I doubt we'll see Manitoba's Official Opposition join this cause.The Manitoba CONs have a long history of opposing gay rights so as to not offend their base. Former leader of the party Stuart Murray admitted that he "personally" supported same-sex adoption but voted against it because the rurally-based party caucus couldn't stand it. He made this admission of throwing gay rights under the bus as a defence against claims that he shouldn't be involved with the Human Rights Museum given his opposition to human rights.If Murray, a man who "personally" supports gay rights (but doesn't follow through with legislative action) would do this, imagine what Pallister will. 

Brian Pallister, you see, voted against equal marriage rights for same-sex couples as a Member of Parliament. He gave tired old, "tradition" based arguments, and spoke of the hysteria of a local pastor. He didn't do the right thing.

Will Pallister do what's right now, stand up for rights, and not shrug off the issue so lightly as Stuart Murray did?

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  1. I can't believe Pallister was stupid enough to tie his future to the far right in his party. How well did that work for his predecessors?

    1. Maybe he fears a leadership challenge from the Wingnut right or a "Wildrose Alliance" style party to steal away his rural rump?

      Kelvin Goertzen's twitter account appears out of service now. I don't know why, but I have a funny feeling that that's not a mere glitch.

  2. It is not my purpose to get into a religious discussion here, I only site the on top of because it tends to illustrate my earlier point of a gay lobby and a strong "gay agenda.

    1. Indeed, there is a "strong gay agenda" and it's the same as the African American civil rights agenda in the US or the agenda of First Nations rights activists across the Americas: to be treated with basic human decency.

      That is an agenda I can get behind.