You may have heard the story of a young mother in southern Manitoba who spoke at a Hanover School Division board meeting after her child was bullied for having two Moms. She asked for the school board to actively address its policies around diversity and allow discussion about sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms.
In response to this story, HAAM has released the following official statement. However, because this story also resonates with us on a personal level, we are adding personal statements from two of our executive.
We at the Humanists, Atheists, & Agnostics of Manitoba stand in support of Michelle McHale’s efforts to have family diversity – including LGBTTQ parents – included in discussions regarding human rights at her child’s school.
We believe that diversity in individuals and in families is to be appreciated and celebrated, not to be ignored or treated like something shameful. It doesn’t really matter whether that diversity reflects our nationality, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability, or our religion (or lack thereof). These are just some of the protected characteristics under the Manitoba Human Rights Code. It is important that children learn to understand and appreciate the fact that we are all unique.
This statement summarizes our stance as an organization. However, this issue has also resonated with us on a personal level, and our President and Vice President have also prepared personal statements regarding the situation in Hanover School Division.
Statement from Donna Harris, President
Ms. McHale’s original complaint was that her 12-year-old child was being bullied by other students. In my opinion, the Hanover School Division’s first priority SHOULD have been to stop the bullying, and prevent it from re-occurring. It’s obvious that family diversity is a topic that needs to be addressed, if other kids are using it as a weapon against their classmates. And where did they get the idea in the first place? It must have come from somewhere close to home. This situation did not require a “sensitive” in-depth discussion about being homosexual. It required a lesson in tolerance, kindness, and respect.
It is interesting that the Manitoba school curriculum includes “family diversity” as a topic in the elementary grades, but not in middle school. A quick internet search turned up a number of books about different types of families that appear to be meant for children in grades 1 to 3. Family diversity doesn’t just mean two Moms or two Dads. What about families with adopted children from a different ethnic group? Mixed race families? Single parents? Children being raised by grandparents?
Surely there must be some of these families in the Hanover School District. I don’t believe Ms. McHale wanted to introduce sex education. She just wanted her child’s school to be a welcoming environment, where learning can take place in a positive, supportive atmosphere.
Statement from Pat Morrow, Vice-President
Print media and television give us the nuts and bolts of the story but don’t touch the underlying cause of the controversy. That underlying cause in southern Manitoba is Fundamentalist / Evangelical Christian beliefs. For Humanists, being gay or having two Moms is no more noteworthy than being black or left-handed. We’re all just people. Marriage between members of the same sex isn’t gay marriage, it’s just marriage. Using reason, science, and our natural human empathy, we came to this conclusion so long ago that it astounds us to find a group of educators and parents who don’t even want to talk about it.
Since this story broke it has exploded on the local social media, with a lot of anger and emotion on both sides. What’s really interesting for me to see are the religious folks who would for the most part like to stuff this subject back in the closet, and yet have so much to say about it. And for many of them, what they have to say is truly disgusting. For example, that homosexuality is a slippery slope leading to bestiality and pedophilia, or that homosexuality is a violation of God’s law and natural law. I asked several of these evangelical social media commenters if they agreed with the penalty for homosexuality written in Gods law (which of course is death). I also pressed several of them to confirm their support of statements made by other fundamentalist Christians whom they quote in their various posts, such as “Should we be removing children from the homes of gay parents?” and “Do you believe gay people spread diseases?“… The silence was deafening. Those of us who have heard the above claims before usually associate them with the wingnut fundamentalist Christianity of places such as Mississippi or Arkansas. What’s really disturbing is that these are fellow Manitobans in 2016. Their inability to answer these basic moral questions speaks volumes about what they truly believe about good, decent, moral people who just happen to be gay. On the other hand, I suppose it could be that religion has damaged their moral compass to the point that they cannot articulate a coherent answer due to acute cognitive dissonance.
I was looking through this social media quagmire of faith-based hyperbolic misinformation and general bigotry for that most elusive snippet of information – an actual reasonable argument against the subject at hand, which is that the Hanover School board is being asked to allow discussion about sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms. Like looking for the proverbial diamond in a dung heap, I didn’t find any. The closest I was able to come were statements that parents have a right to teach children their beliefs, and multiple claims of “it’s our freedom of religion” (and no, I didn’t miss the irony that neither of these claims are “Gods Laws”). These are rights that Humanists fully support and are guaranteed in our Constitution. I think the question to ask is: At what point do we as a society tell parents and school boards that what they’re teaching their children is harmful and that what they’re not teaching is shortchanging them? I think that time is now, because what is good, what is right, and what is noble is on our side.