Somewhere in Mississauga, a Catholic school has decided to ban rainbows. The statement itself easily demonstrates how ridiculous this decision is. A group of students attempting to set up an information booth on LGBT issues (complete with a rainbow flag) was informed by administrators that, given the “politically charged” nature of the rainbow and what it symbolizes, they were not allowed to use it. By declaring the rainbow—that benign symbol of peace, diversity and yes, gay culture and pride— unwelcome, the school and education board invited a hailstorm of criticism and controversy. It was rightfully deserved.
The act of hiding prejudice behind a declared religious conviction or the threat of “politicizing” a public institution (the equally ludicrous matter of publicly funded religious schools in a 21st century liberal democracy is a discussion for another day) is an insult to the intelligence and spirit of goodwill toward all that schools should foster in young people. Refusing to allow a group of students to set up clubs or events that promote inclusivity and tolerance among young people sets a dangerous precedent and legitimizes the idea that discrimination is acceptable.
In a world where gay and lesbian teens are committing suicide because of bullying, where teenage girls push themselves to starvation, where people are literally living and dying to fight oppression, how can this ban be rationalized? Any argument rapidly falls apart because it can’t be rationalized as anything but censorship and discrimination. Certainly the school would face justified condemnation if it tried to ban a group that aimed to foster a dialogue on combating racism or ban the female symbol as too “politically feminist.” Yet here we have a group of educators, entrusted to teach and form young minds, to help encourage young people to grow into responsible and educated citizens… doing just the same thing. They are attempting to quash discussions that need to be had if we want to prevent more young adults like Tyler Clementifrom jumping off bridges.
In 2006, after the Conservative government came to power in Ottawa, they held a vote on whether or not to reopen the issue of same-sex marriage and the Civil Marriage Act passed by the previous government in 2005. During the debate, Toronto NDP MP Olivia Chow asked why, as people around the world are dying in wars and children in Canada are going hungry every night, the government would waste precious time discussing whether to strip people of rights. Her declaration that representatives are elected to serve people and fight injustice reflects an attitude that all of society, and most especially schools, should be trying to foster—not censor or silence.
The fact of the matter is, when we sit by and allow those in power to silence others’ opinions, their attempts to speak out and right a wrong, we jeopardize our own freedom and rights. Brushing aside a desperately needed debate on how to stop homophobia and bullying of young people, declaring it inappropriate or too politically charged for students to tackle, is an admission that these educators don’t particularly care. Their refusal to allow students to become engaged amounts to a legitimization of bullying, grants unspoken approval of such actions and gives the impression that hate (because in the end, it is hate) is acceptable. If schools tacitly permit harassment based on sexual orientation, then how can they stop students from harassing a girl based on her clothes or appearance? How they can they protect a Muslim student being bullied because she wears a veil, or a black student facing racism?
For some, the idea that a school would ban rainbows seems irrelevant, perhaps even justified. The ideology behind such views, though, is much deeper, much more sinister, and much more offensive. Debates such as this make people uncomfortable because they don’t like facing their own demons, their own held stereotypes and prejudices. It is easier to cast issues like this aside as bureaucratic decisions with no real weight than it is to face the very real problems that exist in schools as well as society in general. Facing the realities of homophobia, sexism, racism and other forms of discrimination that are still very much a part of life, even in 21st century Canada, is uncomfortable and should continue to be so. Only through discomfort, through the continued exposure, debate and subsequent outrage at such preposterous decisions can we move toward a more equal and just society.
So we as a society must face our own prejudices and must never stop working to change people’s minds and hearts. If one group is allowed to discriminate against another based on their sexual orientation, they can just as easily do it for their religion, their size, their gender, or the colour of their skin. They can just easily do it to you. Denying the rights of even one person threatens the rights of everyone. Hate, in all its forms, cannot and must not ever be justified.