EDMONTON - An Alberta school trustee is being roundly criticized for suggesting gay students can avoid bullying by being less open about their sexual orientation.
Dale Schaffrick, trustee for the Pembina Hills school division northwest of Edmonton, made the comment during a policy debate at the fall meeting of the Alberta School Boards Association earlier this week.
Schaffrick, a farmer from Barrhead, refused Thursday to explain his position and simply said he's sorry for the words he used. "They were inappropriate and offensive and I apologize for that."
Reaction has been swift and fierce on the Internet.
One man named Alex posted a message on Twitter: "#actlessgay how about #actlessredneck." Another chimed in with "Dear Dale Schaffrick, can you please 'act less bigoted?' Or better yet, just resign."
Even Alberta Education Minister Jeff Johnson fired off some tweets.
"As a parent I would never ask my child to hide who they are," he wrote. "Education Act is clear — all kids deserve a safe welcoming place to go to school no matter what they wear or how visible they are."
Later, talking with reporters, Johnson said all trustees in the province are expected to do everything they can to protect children. He wouldn't say whether he thinks Schaffrick should resign.
"That's a choice for electors right now."
Gay activist Murray Billett told news media that Schaffrick's comments are the kind "that force a kid to go to the barn and hang himself."
Chevi Rabbit, a 26-year-old who made headlines last summer when he was allegedly taunted with gay slurs and attacked by three men in Edmonton, was so angry he posted Schaffrick's home number and email address on the Internet. He encouraged others to send the trustee their best gay photos.
"Be less gay or get attacked! That's basically the message," Rabbit wrote on Facebook.
Schaffrick said he has received some "unpleasant" phone calls, but wouldn't elaborate on the backlash.
Jacquie Hansen, president of the Alberta School Boards Association, said she's disappointed by Schaffrick's remark but it's sad to see him being hounded for it.
"That takes us right back to bullying ... There's a certain irony about it all."
She said Schaffrick made the comment Monday while trustees debated a proposal that called for all schools in the province to protect gay students and staff from discrimination. The motion came from Edmonton Public Schools, which approved such a policy last year.
After about 45-minutes of "passionate" discussion, members voted to shut down the debate, Hansen said. Some 62 per cent of trustees then voted to reject the proposal.
She said the majority of trustees didn't want a policy that protects only gay students from discrimination. "The feeling in the room was we'd rather have a policy for all kids and that bullying shouldn't be tolerated no matter who you are or what you have to deal with in your world."
She said trustees voted earlier in the day to accept another motion that promotes "equality of opportunity, dignity and respect" for all.
"Unfortunately, this is being seen as anti-gay and that's not what this is about," Hansen said. "This is about policy and this is how to best protect our kids."