New Westminster district to develop 'anti-homophobia' policy

New Westminster has decided to develop an anti-homophobia policy similar to one the Burnaby board of education adopted that stirred significant controversy.

Outgoing trustee Lori Watt proposed the policy.

But at the urging of another outgoing trustee, Jim Goring, the board unanimously opted to revise the motion to frame it in a more positive way, and include public consultation.

“Can we get away from being against something and find a way of positively framing it,” said Goring on Wednesday.

The motion calls for the district to, in consultation with all stakeholders, “develop a sexual orientation/gender identity policy including recommendations on curriculum, safety and inclusion appropriate for the schools and community at large.”

“I’m very excited it got the support that it did, and hopefully, if the board will have me, will gladly sit on a committee to develop the policy for however long it takes,” said Watt on Wednesday.

“I’m hopeful the community will come together and have some thoughtful discussion about this topic.”

Watt said she didn’t follow the controversy that brewed in Burnaby over a similar policy, although she was aware of the backlash. In Burnaby, some parents complained they hadn’t been consulted before the policy was adopted.

Watt has long wanted New West to develop its own policy, since the Greater Victoria district created one in 2002. Victoria’s research included a 1999 survey showing 46 per cent of the lesbian and gay youth surveyed had attempted suicide at some time, and almost 25 per cent had in the previous year. The average age of the first attempt was 13 years.

“It was really disturbing and I thought if there was anything we could do to help we should,” said Watt.

Goring said it was important to reach out to students, parents and others for recommendations. “The intent is to make sure schools are welcoming places.”

• Goring introduced a motion to provide a guideline for determining if a trustee has a pecuniary interest. He suggested if a trustee received $3,000 or 50 per cent of all contributions from one corporation or union the board would need to consider whether or not the trustee should remain in the room for discussions involving those groups. The board deferred discussion of the proposal to the next finance committee meeting.

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