Thursday, October 2, 2008

A mother’s plea to keep her gay son from harm

Vancouver Sun: 2008 October 2

For Susan Harman, Social Justice 12 brings hope for basic human rights

Here we are today, 40 years after the Stonewall riots, 35 years after the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its official list of mental disorders, 30 years after Denmark became the first government to recognize civil unions between gay and lesbian couples, and five years after Queer Eye For the Straight Guy made regular moisturizing acceptable to heterosexual males, and we here in B.C. are still agonizing over the issue of offering our schoolchildren courses that discuss, among other things, the idea that it’s unacceptable to beat the crap out of people whose sexual orientation may be different than their own.

I sometimes wonder if “B.C.” refers to the dinosaurs still roaming around out here.

This time, we must go a little east to find the Jurassic:

In Abbotsford this week, the school board decided to withhold a senior-grade high school elective course entitled Social Justice 12, pending a review. Social Justice 12, approved by the Ministry of Education just this August, is the first course in the province to include discussions on sexual orientation and gender identity, though sex isn’t its only focus.

It also encompasses a mindnumbing barrage of other politically earnest “isms,” — ageism, consumerism, cultural imperialism, extremism, feminism, racism, humanism, and — hello, Abbotsford! — fundamentalism.

Abbotsford, of course, is often described as B.C.’s “Bible Belt.” It is there where the spirit of the Golden Rule is not just taught in church but rigorously applied.

Except, presumably, when it comes to homosexuals.

A number of “concerned parents” — it was never made clear how many — complained to the board about Social Justice 12 because of the homosexuality component in it.

The board caved, and pulled the course.

Now, this is an old scenario in news stories such as these. There’s a divine-decreed right to righteous intolerance. There’s the charge that government has overstepped its moral limits. There’s a campaign of indignation engineered by innumerable, unnamed “concerned parents.”

The problem with these stories is that you never hear the other side of the story.

You never hear of the other “concerned parents,” and there are other concerned parents.

Susan Harman is one of them. Her son is gay.

“When he first told me he was gay, there was the realization for me that his life would be forever different, and my life would be forever different, and I was concerned for him that he was entering a world where it means that he might be bullied, harassed and attacked.”

Harman is the president of the Vancouver chapter of Parents, Family & Friends of Lesbians and Gays, or PFLAG.

A retired teacher, she also sits on the Vancouver school board’s pride education advisory committee, which advises the board on homophobia and gender issues.

For her, a course such as Social Justice 12 isn’t some esoteric exercise in touchy-feely politics. It isn’t a government vehicle meant to bruise the religious sensitivities of parents who believe the life her son leads is evil.
It is a plea to keep her son safe from harm.

It is a mother asking for her boy’s right to walk safely down the street without fear of assault, or being bullied in class, or being ostracized and demonized in his community for being different. And as a mother, she wants that taught in schools.

So when she sees a gay man allegedly being assaulted by a group of men who were allegedly taunting them with anti-gay remarks, in Vancouver, on Davie Street, in a neighbourhood considered to be a safe haven for gays and lesbians, she sees a direct connection between that alleged assault and the pressure put on the Abbotsford school board to withdraw Social Justice 12. And she is not alone.

“[Parents of gay children] feel that their child being gay puts them in extra danger. So this kind of crime [the alleged assault on Davie] just increases that level of danger.”

In Abbotsford, of course, there isn’t that sense of danger, because there are no gays or lesbians in Abbotsford, or parents of gays and lesbians. But I wonder: If there were, what would those parents pray for?

That their children forsake their homosexuality or, failing that, that they be able to walk down the street without fear of having the crap beat out of them?

(Susan Harman is a Retired Vancouver T-L)