Tiffany Muller Myrdahl didn’t come to Whitehorse to talk about the Vanier Catholic school controversy. The University of Lethbridge professor came to give a presentation through the Yukon women’s directorate about progressive policies on sexual orientation and gender identity.
But given her expertise, it’s impossible to ignore the policy debate playing out over the Catholic Church’s teachings on homosexuality, and whether the school has a right to teach its religious beliefs.
“It seems like it’s being framed as a public versus private debate, about whether the church has a right to teach its views in a publicly funded institution,” she said.
But there is more to it than that, she said.
Muller Myrdahl is the Junior Ruth Wynn Woodward chair of gender and urban studies at Simon Fraser University for 2013.
Her trip to Whitehorse couldn’t have been better timed. Before the controversy broke, she had planned to come and discuss the Education Department’s new sexual-orientation and gender-identity policy that was implemented in September – the same policy that Education Minister Scott Kent said last week that Vanier must meet.
She said much of the heated rhetoric, especially that flying around on social media, is a tempting response when controversial issues are raised, but that it often isn’t helpful.
“I understand that people get scared and they often respond in ways that their response comes from a place of fear. I would encourage people to try to take a step back, and try to have a conversation that allows multiple sides, because it’s not just two sides. We need to allow all multiple sides to have their say,” she said.
Muller Myrdahl’s specialty is studying urban issues from a feminist perspective.
“For me that’s about whom the city works for and where it kind of fails, whether that’s about new immigrant communities, or First Nations communities. My work has tended to focus a lot on gender and sexual identity, so I’ve worked a lot with LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning) topics and issues,” she said.
She said issues of inequality and privilege can be difficult to see and understand, especially the larger impact of specific incidents.
“I read about the student whose locker was defaced, and allegedly the principal wouldn’t fix that. That’s hurtful not just to the student but to the student body. It’s not just her that’s being affected. It affects all the students and the staff. It’s about … climate,” Muller Myrdahl said.
In her opinion there needs to be a safe space at public schools for all students who feel or appear queer or different, not just gays and lesbians, she said. Gay-straight alliances are the best form those safe spaces can take, she added.
She referred to an EGALE (Equality for Gays and Lesbians Everywhere) report from 2010 that said over 58 per cent of self-identified straight kids were supportive of gay-straight alliances because some of them, in part, are also targets.
“They are read to be different in some way. It’s not just about the kids who identify as queer, it’s also about the climate that’s being created at the school that makes it unsafe for everybody,” she said.
As well as meeting with government policy workers, Muller Myrdahl is giving a public talk on Thursday at 7 p.m. in La salle communautaire at 302 Strickland Street. The event is free and open to the public.
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