NDP introduces anti-bullying act

The official Opposition introduced a bill Thursday that will ensure students who request a Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA, also known as a Gay-Straight Alliance) at school cannot be denied.

The Respect for Diversity – Student Bill of Rights Act also gives students the right to have any cyber-bullying or other bullying concerns properly addressed by their school administration; and that students have the right to have any disability appropriately accommodated.

The act will apply to all schools that receive public funding.

All three actions were clauses in an Opposition education bill introduced last week, which also called for smaller class sizes, more educational assistant support for students and timely repairs to school buildings. The government refused to debate that bill, challenging it on the grounds that it would cost money to improve schools, and arguing that only ministers are entitled to make budgetary allocations.

“Every student in Saskatchewan, regardless of factors like where they live and what their school community looks like, should be guaranteed fundamental rights,” said David Forbes, NDP critic for Diversity, Equality and Human Rights, who introduced the bill. “We should be entrenching best practices for preventing discrimination and bullying, and promising that those best practices will be followed for every student.”

Pride parade puts the fun in fight for equal rights

Matt Gardner, Prince Albert Daily Herald, June 7, 2014

Intermittent rain couldn’t dampen the spirits of participants in this year’s Pride parade.

For many the highlight of Pride Week celebrations in Prince Albert, the annual parade and community rally continues to grow in strength, attracting almost 50 participants from communities across northern Saskatchewan.

“I was really impressed … especially to hear about some people coming from different communities like Duck Lake, James Smith, St. Louis, Meadow Lake, and some attending their very first Pride parade and choosing to do it here,” Prince Albert Q-Network president Jennifer Brockman said.

“It’s always a stressful time organizing it and I wonder, sometimes … are we making a difference?” she added. “That’s when I know we’re making a difference, is (when) I see those couples holding hands, and those people just coming from other communities and attending and celebrating — it just makes it all worthwhile.”

Revelers assembled in front of the Court of Queen’s Bench in the early afternoon before setting out down Central Avenue, attracting supportive honks from many passing vehicles.

Vehicles decked out in rainbow flags paved the way for pedestrians walking behind. One of the vehicles, dubbed the Trans Pride Van, blared trans-friendly music such as Dude (Looks Like A Lady) by Aerosmith and Lola by The Kinks.

The parade route took participants down Central Avenue, west along 28th Street and back down First Avenue West before settling at Kinsmen Park. Participants there enjoyed a range of guest speakers and live entertainment along with a barbecue.

Kicking off the presentations, emcee Stephanie Bourne read out a list of prominent individuals who came out over the last year, such as Canadian actress Ellen Page.

Noting the theme of this year’s Pride Week festivities, “Out and About,” she added, “It’s about honouring ourselves and others and being out — not only to our personal circles, but also in the community and making a difference for those people who don’t have that support group around them.”

In her own remarks, Brockman thanked the work of pioneering activists over the years who helped make Prince Albert more friendly to the LGBTQ community by establishing social support groups and gay-straight alliances (GSAs).

“Anybody who did anything to help support the community, I thank them because they’re the reason that we’re able to be here,” she said.

Other speakers included representatives of communities from across Saskatchewan.

Hailing from Regina was TransSask Support Services co-ordinator Mikayla Schultz, who also helped found the provincial trans support organization.

“It’s great to be here again representing the trans community of Saskatchewan and TransSask Support Services,” Schultz said. “Prince Albert’s always welcoming to us in the trans community and it’s just great to be a part of the festivities.

“As of last year there’s been huge growth for the trans community in Saskatchewan, especially in regards to human rights. We’ve undertaken a human rights awareness campaign called the Time 4 Rights … We encourage all the allies of the transgender community to show their support for gender-diverse people, all gender-diverse people.”

The Time 4 Rights campaign calls for the inclusion of “gender identity” and “gender expression” in the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code. Additional information is available at www.time4rights.ca.

Schultz noted that TransSask Support Services is currently in the process of creating a branch in Prince Albert.

“We are actually in the process of establishing one. We’ve made contact with a few trans people in the city here, so (we’re) just trying to get coordinated and appoint a facilitator and hopefully we’ll have a chapter here. We’ve got chapters in Moose Jaw, Regina and Saskatoon already.”

Two-Spirit elder and Duck Lake resident Marjorie Beaucage reiterated the significance of so many LGBTQ individuals from different areas of Saskatchewan attending.

“This is the first time we have so many from away, away,” she said. “It’s really important … Our communities need to support the youth and the people that are not ‘out and about’ yet because it’s not safe.”

Another speaker on Saturday was Saskatoon Centre MLA David Forbes.

As the Saskatchewan NDP critic for human rights, diversity and equity, Forbes annually attends pride parades in other communities across the province, including P.A., Moose Jaw, Regina and Saskatoon.

“There was this demonstration in Weyburn that I was at earlier in April that was talking about protecting human rights for the rainbow community, and so I think it’s just important to get out and stand in support and solidarity as an ally with the community,” Forbes said.

The MLA noted that many challenges still remain when it comes to acceptance and support for the LGBTQ community, pointing to a recent conference in Weyburn that featured a speaker in which “his main thesis was really around hate and not tolerance for the queer community.”

Forbes noted that the NDP is fully supportive of efforts to include gender identity and gender expression in the provincial Human Rights Code.

“It’s important both those pieces are in place,” he said. “Across Canada, we know human rights codes are being amended to be more proactive. We’re behind here in Saskatchewan.”

He also pointed to other ongoing issues, such as the need to have a discussion about gender markers on provincial identification cards and the presence of GSAs at schools in Prince Albert.

“That’s hugely important that kids in our schools have safe spaces,” he said. “So we’ve been advocating in the provincial legislature that they get moving on the bullying legislation and the initiatives that should be there.”

Another speaker represented the progressive role that can be played by faith when it comes to support of the LGBTQ community.

Calvary United Church congregational designated minister Lorelei Clifford noted that the United Church of Canada had “proudly embraced” members of that community since 1988, when the United Church’s 32nd General Council declared that anyone who professes faith in Jesus Christ — regardless of sexual orientation –was welcome to membership in the church.

Clifford recently hosted a local Bible study entitled “Queer and Christian Without Contradiction.”

“We specifically looked at Bible readings that have been used to condemn homosexuality and we looked at what they really said and how the Bible as a whole really is talking about God loving everyone,” she said. “It was a really good study.”

Following the speakers, local musician and Search for the Stars winner Daniel LeBlanc offered live entertainment for the crowd.

His set included an original song, Yellow Lines, written specifically for the occasion, with lyrics expressing support for ongoing LGBTQ struggles.

One promising sign of growing acceptance from the younger generation came from nine-year-old Arianna Hovdebo, who attended the parade to support her aunt, Prince Albert Q-Network co-chair Nicole Milas.

Hovdebo offered a cogent summary of one of the day’s key messages.

“It’s OK to love a girl if you’re a girl,” she said. “And it’s OK to love a boy if you’re a boy.”

Ralliers call for changes to Saskatchewan Human Rights Code

Steve Silva, Global News, April 5, 2014

Dozens rallied in front of the Saskatchewan Legislative Building Saturday afternoon hoping to convince the provincial government to add terms to the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code to ensure undeniable protection for the transgender community.

Specifically, they want “gender identity” and “gender expression” added to the definition of prohibited ground.

“We’re concerned about it. It should be much more specific and explicit, so their protections are there,” said David Forbes, Saskatoon Centre MLA and NDP critic for diversity, equality and human rights.

Saskatchewan Human Rights Commissioner David Arnot said transgender people are protected under the code, despite the code’s wording, because the Supreme Court of Canada has already established that definition should be interpreted “widely, broadly.”

Forbes isn’t fully convinced.

“It is open to interpretation, and there are many people who disagree that it’s protected,” said Forbes.

Arnot said he is talking to the trans community and is “open-minded” to the argument to change the code.

However, changing the code would be a complex issue, he argued.

“As soon as you start to narrowly define individuals or groups in any way, you may run the risk of leaving somebody out,” said Arnot on Friday.

When Miki Mappin came out as a female three years ago, some people had a hard time accepting her.

“The harassment got worse, to the point where I was actually accosted,” said Mappin, director for the Gender Equality Society of Saskatchewan.

Her troubles eventually led to a nervous breakdown, resulting in time away from work.

“It’s so hurtful. You start to feel terrible about yourself, like you try to tell yourself it’s not you, it’s them,” she said at the rally.

Mappin says many in the community support the cause but didn’t attend, fearing the personal and work repercussions of being discovered as trans people.

“One person wrote me…[She] said that she was feeling suicidal, and depressed, and she wishes wasn’t alive. It was so tragic to read that,” said Mappin.

While others are on her mind, the hopeful outcome of the rally was personal.

“It means that I can feel that I’m a valued part of society,” said Mappin.

Saturday is the last day of Trans Awareness Week in Saskatchewan.

Bullying Report Light on Action, Light on Details

The NDP is disappointed that the government’s bullying report has few details and little action described.

“The long wait for this report came with hope that Saskatchewan’s young people would see action to address bullying immediately,” said David Forbes, NDP critic for diversity, equality and human rights. “This government took far too much time to come back with far too little to protect kids and stop bullying.”

The NDP’s expectations for the report included concrete help for establishing gay-straight alliances in schools; an immediate action plan to investigate and stop cyberbullying; and concrete measures to help stop bullying before is starts. The NDP has pointed to other provinces’ models as adaptable for Saskatchewan.

The NDP also hoped that immediate actions would be announced today, since the government coordinated its response with the release of the report. Forbes pointed to the creation of an informational website – an action that could have been done already.

“Nothing in this report appears to give Saskatchewan kids safer schools tomorrow,” said Forbes.

David and the NDP response was featured in a number of News agents. Check out the stories below:

Bullying Report Falls Short, Says Opposition, Joe Couture, The Starphoenix, Nov 15, 2013
Global Evening News, November 14 2013
Sask Education Will See Changes as Report on Bullying is Released: NDP Says Changes Won’t Come Soon Enough, NewsTalk 908 CJME, November 14, 2013

Sask. Party’s outdated views challenged

A hallmark of the spring session of the provincial legislature, which wrapped up Thursday, was the NDP’s challenges to the Sask. Party to lay out its stand on critical social issues.

“Through the course of the spring we were surprised to discover that Sask. Party MLAs resisted  common sense ideas like providing information on gay-straight alliances to students, teachers and parents who want it,” said David Forbes, NDP critic for diversity, equality and human rights issues.

On the national Day of Pink, NDP Leader Cam Broten raised the common sense idea of putting information on gay-straight alliances on the Ministry of Education website. Gay-straight alliances are student-initiated clubs formed to give gay students a safe space, combat gay-bashing and dispel stereotypes. The idea was immediately rejected by Premier Brad Wall, who instead turned to rhetoric about religious freedom.

Danielle Chartier, NDP critic for the status of women, and the NDP MLAs were also disappointed to discover the truth behind the Sask. Party’s report on women appointed to Crown and agency boards. Sask. Party MLA Jennifer Campeau was given a year to look into why the Sask. Party appoints disproportionately far more men to the province’s boards – but the NDP discovered that the result of her work was a simple list of 61 names of women, only a handful of whom have since been appointed.

“The Sask. Party proved they just don’t get it,” said Chartier. “A list of women, collected at an expensive lunch event or two, is not a solution to the fact that women make up less than 30 per cent of those the Sask. Party chooses to give important appointments to. The people of Saskatchewan expected a full report and an honest discussion. A piece of paper with a few names on it is insulting to the many thousands of intelligent and capable women of the province.”

The Sask. Party was also out of step with Saskatchewan people on the issue of standardized testing in schools. While other jurisdictions in Canada and world-wide move away from the old-fashioned notion of standardized testing in every grade, the Sask. Party unveiled a massive, multi-million dollar plan to test every student and release the results.

“The Sask. Party government is decades behind in its thinking on education,” said Forbes, who is also the NDP’s education critic and a teacher. “Shelling out millions for testing and data collection so that third parties can compare schools and classrooms – that’s not helping students.”