Youth in Alberta schools have a right to a “…welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environments that respect diversity and nurture a sense of belonging and a positive sense of self.” Sexual orientation and gender identity are integral pieces of a person’s identity and sense of self. When social attitudes and school personnel or students force youth to hide a portion of their identity, learning success is negatively affected. Some students even stop attending school because they fear being harassed. Even though some students anticipate harassment when they come out, more and more youth are choosing to come out to others at earlier ages than before; some as early as fifth or sixth grade.
Teachers are held to a high standard and are sometimes even asked to monitor their words outside the classroom. One teacher, from British Columbia, named Chris Kempling, went as far as writing homophobic opinions about ‘homosexuals’ and submitting these opinions for publication in the local Quesnel newspaper. The Court found that Mr. Kempling’s writing was discriminatory and derogatory against gays and lesbians. The fact that the letters were written outside of Mr. Kempling’s teaching duties did not excuse him from liability. The Court quoted the Supreme Court of Canada Ross decision in its findings:
Young Children are especially vulnerable to the messages conveyed by their teachers. They are less likely to make an intellectual distinction between comments a teacher makes in the school and those the teacher makes outside the school. They are therefore, more likely to feel threatened and isolated by a teacher who makes comments that denigrate personal characteristics of a group to which they belong. Furthermore, they are unlikely to distinguish between falsehoods and truth and more likely to accept derogatory views espoused by a teacher. The importance of ensuring an equal and discrimination free educational environment, and the perception of fairness and tolerance in the classroom are paramount in the education of young children. This helps foster self-respect and acceptance by others.
For teachers who have personal beliefs that go against equal rights for LGBT youth, the law says that those teachers still have a duty to ensure an “equal and discrimination free education environment”.
In Canada we are permitted to hold views that are in conflict with public policy, but we are not permitted to act upon discriminatory views in prescribed fields of endeavor when the result is discriminatory treatment of others.
On this point, the Supreme Court of Canada stated: “The freedom to hold beliefs is broader than the freedom to act on them.”