Meeting and Defeating Hate Where it Stands

March 25, 2024

Nathan Martindale
Winnipeg Free Press, Friday, March 22, 2024

In the high-octane times in which we live, replete with polarizing politics, deepfakes, the decimation of civil discourse and proliferation of disinformation, there are fewer and fewer things one can lean on with certainty.

The right of youth and adults to safety and security of person is something, however, upon which the Manitoba Teachers’ Society (MTS) stands with unwavering certainty.

In her Free Press article dated March 15, The ‘rights’ fight: Newest culture war battle zone pits parents versus educators with kids’ identities caught in the middle, journalist Maggie Macintosh illustrated the vast influence of organizations such as Action4Canada (A4C). This network skillfully leveraged simmering feelings of isolation and intolerance that found their boiling point in the COVID-19 pandemic, spreading fear like a virus of its own ever since.

Organizations like MTS have an undeniable responsibility to stand in opposition to individuals or organizations whose beliefs or ideologies put anyone at risk of harassment, bullying and outright violence. Within our schools, this commitment to protection is particularly keen in the case of youth who are marginalized, such as those in the LGBTTQ+ community. The horrific beating and subsequent death of non-binary, 16-year-old Oklahoma student Nex Benedict, attacked in the washroom of their school just weeks ago, underscores this fact.

As Macintosh stated, “LGBTTQ+ youth, who have been on the margins of society throughout history, are frequent targets of bullying. And as a result, they are far more likely to experience serious mental health issues, self-harm and die by suicide than their peers.”

While incumbent on government to shape and implement necessary safeguards, there is little comfort to be found on the current political landscape. Look no further than Saskatchewan and Alberta to observe the unchecked impact of misinformation on public policy. And with a Canadian federal election on the horizon while hate-fueled U.S. politics threatens a second Trump presidency, nothing can be taken for granted here at home.

Indeed, the recent call by Manitoba’s interim leader of the Official Opposition to adopt pronoun legislation similar to that of Saskatchewan is reason enough for concern. Granted, given the Tories’ all-in provincial election advocacy for parental rights and evasive response to local attempts at book-banning, Wayne Ewasko is in a tough spot. But tough spots are where character — organizationally, politically, and personally — are defined. On this matter, it’s time for everyone to put away their party card.

The NDP government has laid out its priorities, including the intention to eliminate hate in schools. Holocaust education for all K-12 students in the face of rising antisemitism and the provision of anti-Islamophobia kits to schools are welcome, positive steps, but are by no means sufficient. Concrete action for LGBTTQ+ youth is necessary as well.

And it’s necessary because hate is something we don’t always see coming. It may surface as leaflets left on a car under the benign guise of something that seems reasonable, like “parental rights,” or billed as the prudent removal of an “inappropriate” book from a school library. But make no mistake, it is hate and hate spreads, with those espousing it often appealing, ironically, to societal concerns over safety and security.

Parents, for example, already have clearly defined rights within the school system. To suggest otherwise, particularly to newcomer families who lack experience with Canadian education systems, is unconscionable. Parents are not vulnerable. Our marginalized young people, however, most certainly are.

We must act — all of us — and swiftly. There are no sidelines to sit on, no pillars to hide behind. Organizations like MTS and the governments we work with at all levels must come together now, with one voice and a commitment to support education that builds understanding, compassion and trust backed by public policy that reflects our values.

Young people are at risk — maybe your child. Increasing rates of self-harm and suicide among queer kids is directly related to a lack of acceptance and safety, both in their communities and even in their own homes. For many students, teachers, not their parents, are the safest adults they know. That relationship must be protected.

Hate is not a political football to be played strategically to suit those who seek to gain or hold on to power. The misinformation and outright disinformation that drives this agenda erodes democracy and personal safety while we stand and watch. The impact — the consequences — cannot be overstated.

Parental rights propaganda and worse, the outright threats and intimidation wielded by organizations such as A4C must be met where they are and defeated where they stand.

So, what can we do, all of us, right now, to defend LGBTTQ+ youth and adults alike?

  • Fly a Pride flag and/or a Transgender flag.
  • Provide staff training about what it means and why it’s necessary to offer safe spaces for LGBTTQ+ people.
  • Let your communities and stakeholders know where you stand. Platforms like Facebook and Instagram are great places to publicly communicate your values and expectations.
  • Look for and share credible resources from places like the Rainbow Resource Centre, Egale Canada’s Rainbow Action Hub, and The Trevor Project.
  • Write to your elected officials. You can find their email addresses online. A few lines of support can make a big difference. Never doubt the power of your voice.
  • Vote. As is often said, the measure of a society is found in how it cares for those most vulnerable. Make clear that ignorance and hate have no place in parliament or any other Canadian political institution.

The greatest weapon of a hatemonger is ignorance. We must make clear, today and every day, that we are a province and a nation that stands up for the safety — for the very lives — of those who need us most.

Not one more student should be forced into the shadows or commit self-harm for lack of a safe place, a safe person, in their lives. Not one more should die. Let us all commit to that much, with unwavering certainty.

Nathan Martindale is president of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society.