I'm a mom -- an Ontario Muslim mom with three kids in the public school system. I know kids are bullied in school. I know kids use the word "gay" as an insult to harass other kids -- queer and straight. I know kids can be mean without using any explicitly derogatory terms. I also know what it means to a kid to be on the receiving end of this type of harassment and how parents must be involved on both sides of the equation to stop bullying when it happens.
So when an Ottawa teen named Jamie Hubley killed himself after years of being bullied for being queer, I was upset. He was not the first queer kid in North America to commit suicide -- only one in a string of suicides over the last two years. And I asked myself: If Ottawa is a village, my village, how did one of the kids in my village get bullied so badly that he ended his life? And what must be done to prevent this from happening again?
Change had to come from the top.
And now it has.
A few days ago, Premier Dalton McGuinty bravely announced, in an incredible step forward, a new anti-bullying policy to support students of all sexual orientations and end the harassment of queer students and save lives.
Not everyone welcomes the premier's new anti-bullying policies. In the Globe and Mail, Charles McVety, president of the Canada Christian College said, in reference to Premier Dalton McGuinty's new anti-bullying policies:
"When you are forcing teachers, Christian teachers, Jewish teachers, Muslim teachers, to teach things that are contrary to the values that they hold, to teach that there are six genders and that you are not attached to the gender of your anatomy, do you not find that that may be an offence to a lot of Ontarians?"
Charles McVety is concerned about how a Muslim teacher may feel enforcing the anti-bullying policies? Charles McVety is now speaking out for Muslims? Is this the same Charles McVety who welcomed conservative Dutch politician Geert Wilders to Canada and called Islam a real, clear, and present danger?
Sorry McVety, but once again we are not on the same page.
My Islamic values teach me to embrace pluralism and that Allah loves us all -- gay or straight.
It's not about pretending we don't have differences -- or worse, marginalizing those who do -- it's about learning to embrace those differences and accept that such diversity enriches our society. This is what I and my progressive Muslim friends are teaching our children. I guess this is not what you -- or people who agree with you -- are teaching yours.
It is my hope that the new policies (which by the way are not new to the Ontario Human Rights Code) should send a strong signal to all Ontarians, of all faiths and backgrounds, from all places of origin, cultures, and ethnicities and our publicly funded schools -- that schools must be welcoming and accepting of all our children, regardless of their sexual orientation.
Premier McGuinty is arming our kids with the love and compassion they need to live peacefully in our society.
And I would like to thank him.
It takes a village to raise a child. By implementing these policies, he is telling us that he is part of that village and he cares about helping our children.
The premier got it.
Maybe when the other grown-ups -- like Charles McVety -- get it, the kids will get it too.
If the new policies save one life, they are worth it.
Shahla Khan Salter, chairs Muslims for Progressive Values Canada.