Pride before the fall

Trinity Western University won their court battle against the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society and must have its proposed law degree accredited by the Soceity.
Trinity Western University won their court battle against the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society and must have its proposed law degree accredited by the Society.

Pride Week ended but we are far from celebrating. Some students say they still face the same old discrimination in their schools because of their sexual orientation.

Abbey Einarson said she would never forget her experience during a sociology class at St. Mary’s University a few months ago. She identifies as pansexual, an attraction towards anyone regardless of sex, gender or gender identity.

“We were talking about LGBTQ+ communities and we were put into groups to discuss them,” she said. “When I was talking about my experiences… they were just kind of sniggering and glancing at me and they discluded me from the work.”

Brittany Gillis also recounts comments directed at her last December, from students on Yik Yak – an anonymous social media app.

“We once tried to organize a party for gay people and people were like, ‘if straight people can’t come, then that’s discrimination’,” said Gillis, “but straight people have never been discriminated against to the point where their rights were not accepted.”

Brittany Gillis (right) and Abbey Einarson at Halifax's Pride Parade.
Brittany Gillis (left) and Abbey Einarson at Halifax’s Pride Parade.

Earlier this week, Trinity Western University (TWU), a private Christian university, won their court battle against the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society (NSBS) to have its proposed law degree accredited. The proposed degree was approved by the Federal Canadian Law Societies, but the NSBS refused to grant the B.C. university accreditation because of the university’s ‘Community Covenant Agreement’, which “discriminates” against LGBTQ+ individuals.

The Agreement encourages students to live by Christian teachings and prohibits, “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman”. TWU argued that the Society’s decision is an infringement upon their religious freedom, under the Charter of Rights and Freedom.

John Carpay, who acted as counsel on the case, said people have the freedom to create any organization they want to and establish their own rules.

“In a free country, if people disagree with your association, they’re free not to join but they don’t have a right to force changes on your group,” he said. “So the decision is a good one for freedom of association.”

Jude Ashburen, a South House representative, disagrees and says freedom of association is “a thinly veiled” expression. South House is a sexual and gender justice centre run by Dalhousie University students. Ashburen says religious freedom should not be prioritized over LGBTQ+ issues.

“We’re talking about human rights and charter rights. These are actual rights that we have and you cannot openly discriminate on the basis of their sexuality,” said Ashburen. “They [TWU] can’t do that.”

Carpay further explains that discrimination is expected in a “free society” and feeling welcome isn’t an entitlement.

“People talk about discrimination as if it’s very obvious what that means, but if you think about it every group discriminates against people who disagree with the group or dislike the group,” he said. “It’s a normal part of life that you’re not going to feel welcome joining every single group.”

TWU has LGBTQ+ students and graduates who publicly stated that they’ve had positive experiences at the school. Yet, Ashburen says a few LGBTQ+ students praising TWU doesn’t represent the whole queer community there.

“If one or two of them had a good experience, that’s fabulous but that’s not going to fix the problem,” Ashburen said. “Coming out of Pride Week and thinking about the fact that this is still happening is another example about silence around homophobia and institutionalized violence against LGBTQ folks…”

Ashuren points out that she isn’t surprised at the court’s decision, but demands that the province do better.

“It was a good opportunity for Nova Scotia to set a standard and they missed it,” she said. “Stop letting this slide and stop sending a message to queer and LGBTQ+ people that our lives don’t matter.”

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