Author: Tom Kertes

Equality for Everyone (Especially in Terms of Respect and Dignity) Means NO Designated BCTF EC Seat Based on Sexuality and/or Gender Identity/Expression

Rather than build barriers and divisions in our union by discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression, the BCTF should continue to push for equal respect and equal dignity for all members, all students, and all people – regardless of sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression.

Proposals, if adopted, that would deny a designated seat on the Executive Committee for straight/cis members, by only allowing members who are not straight/cis to hold that seat are discriminatory. If adopted, these proposals build barriers and add divisions to our union.

The aim of the union should be an end to all forms of workplace and union discrimination on the basis of one’s sexuality and/or gender identity/expression. In addition, as union of teaching professionals, our aim should be schools that treat all students equally. Equal respect for all. Equal dignity for all.

As a union, out job is first and foremost to build unity. We do this by working together for common values and interests. Equal dignity, equal opportunity, and equal respect are unifying by everyone benefits when we are all treated on an equal basis.

The job of achieving equality in our union is not as easy as saying “everyone should be treated equally, regardless of their sexuality and/or gender identity/expression”. But we cannot achieve equality on this basis without setting this out as a goal. And we can never achieve equality by building structures in our union that make divisions and discrimination explicitly part of how we govern our union.

The BCTF should not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression because every member, regardless if they are asexual, bisexual, heterosexual (straight), homosexual (gay or lesbian), pansexual, trans or non-binary (not cis), or two-spirit has an equal right to voice, vote, and role in the union. Let’s unite as a union, working together for equality and non-discrimination on the basis of one’s sexuality and/or gender identity/expression.

Beyond the principles of equality and treating everyone with respect and dignity, there are practical reasons to not build discrimination on the basis of sexuality and/or gender identity/expression into our union. First, is the practical value of unity. Equality unites, rather than divides, the union.

Second, is the practical value of not building barriers into out governance structures. If we create a special seat for only non-straight/cis members, we create barriers for members of both the excluded and included group. We make it harder for members of the “designated” group to demonstrate the merits of their leadership and to represent the union as a whole.

Finally, there is the value of shared responsibility. Every leader in the BCTF – straight or not straight, cis or trans – has the responsibility to stand up for equality, respect, and dignity for all BCTF members all B.C. students and families.

Right Problem. Wrong Solution: Why the BCTF should continue to not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression

There are proposals for consideration at the upcoming BCTF AGM to change its election process to designate one seat on the Executive Committee (EC) for only members who self identify as asexual, bisexual, homosexual (lesbian or gay), pansexual, or queer, whose gender expression and/or identity is trans and/or non-binary (not cis), who are intersexual, and/or who are two-spirit. 

While these proposals are intended help address a worthwhile problem to solve, they will do little to solve the intended problem. They are the wrong solution. Moreover, these proposals would diminish, rather than enhance, the voice of members who are not straight/cis – making the problem they are trying to solve worse, not better.

Discrimination Against Straight/Cis Members is Still Discrimination Based on Sexuality and/or Gender Identity/Expression

If adopted, these changes would discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression (SOGI/E). Members who are straight/cis could not hold the designated seat, based solely on their own SOGI/Es. This is a mistake – both for principled reasons and for practical reasons.

On principle, every member – regardless of sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression – should have an equal place in the union. But this proposal, if adopted, would make some members unequal, based on their SOGI/E.

In terms of practical reasons, if adopted this proposal would marginalize members who are sexual, bisexual, homosexual (lesbian or gay), pansexual, or queer, whose gender expression and/or identity is trans and/or non-binary (not cis), who are intersexual, and/or who are two-spirit. While we would be provided with a unique seat, this would make it harder for us to run for a seat on the EC on other issues, unrelated to our SOGI/E.

Right problem. Wrong solution.

People who are asexual, bisexual, homosexual (lesbian or gay), pansexual, or queer, whose gender expression and/or identity is trans and/or non-binary (not cis), who are intersexual, and/or who are two-spirit do face barriers and discrimination at work and within unions. This is an important problem to solve. In addition, beyond areas of our employment as teachers, we also face other barriers and forms of discrimination as well. Right-wing politicians attack us and use us as political pawns. Trans and non-binary people are targeted by right-wing pundits and are denied equal dignity and equal provision of services due to their SOGI/E.

The problem affects more than teaching professionals, as students need access to respectful and accurate information about their own sexuality, sexual health, and gender identity and expression. Positive role models in media, books, and popular culture are needed for students of all kinds of SOGI/Es. Schools should be safe and inclusive for all students to learn and to belong. Community is important for everyone, and we should foster respectful communities for all students.

The BCTF has been a leader for a long time to help address these problems by pushing back against all forms of discrimination and inequality. As a union, the BCTF has been an advocate for equal rights for all persons – regardless of their SOGI/E. The BCTF fights for equal employment rights, workplace dignity for all, and opportunities for all members to have a strong voice in our union. We have also advocated for SOGI/E education, pushing back against all forms of indoctrination that would deny students who are asexual, bisexual, homosexual (lesbian or gay), pansexual, or queer, whose gender expression and/or identity is trans and/or non-binary (not cis), who are intersexual, and/or who are two-spirit their right to accurate and respectful information and education.

The proposal to create a designated seat on the EC does not solve the problems that students and teachers face in terms of our rights as people of diverse SOGI/Es. Within the BCTF, there is already a strong culture of respect, inclusion, dignity for all members, students, and BCTF staff and partners. We do not need to discriminate on the basis of one’s SOGI/E because our union already has ways for members of all SOGI/Es to be active leaders in the education profession and our teachers’ union. The BCTF is already doing a good job of pushing back against all forms for discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression. This benefits all members of the BCTF and strives for equality for all gender identities and expressions and all sexual/asexual orientations.

This proposal would also not address the broader issues – throughout society – faced by people who are are asexual, bisexual, homosexual (lesbian or gay), pansexual, or queer, whose gender expression and/or identity is trans and/or non-binary (not cis), who are intersexual, and/or who are two-spirit. These broader issues require political leadership, including the leadership of unions and the labour movement more broadly, to ensure that equality on the basis of one’s SOGI/E is respected. The BCTF can be a leader in this movement, but does not need to designate a seat only for members who are not straight/cis to carry out this leadership role. All members of the EC should continue to push for equality on this basis throughout every workplace and union in Canada and beyond.

Let’s continue to work together as a union for equality, dignity, and respect. Let’s continue to advocate for SOGI/E education for all students. Let’s continue to work together, united as a union, for the workplace rights of all members, especially those who require accommodations based on their unique needs.

Letter to PRDTU Delegates/Alternates to the BCTF AGM

Dear PRTDU Delegate/Alternate to the BCTF AGM:

First, thank you for representing the PRDTU membership as a delegate at the BCTF AGM. Democracy is a lot of work. You are giving your time and energy to strengthen our union by representing us all. Thank you for this. Second, I ask that you consider your position on proposals that would create a designated seat on the BCTF EC based on sexual orientation. As I said at the PRDTU General Meeting, I am opposed to this for both principled and practical reasons.

As a matter of principle, the BCTF should not discriminate based on sexual orientation. Every member, be they asexual, bisexual, heterosexual, homosexual, or pansexual, has a right to equal representation, equal vote, and equal voice in the BCTF. And as a practical matter, these proposals – if adopted – would diminish my voice as a BCTF member. I am asking that you not advocate for any structural changes to the union’s governance model that would undermine my right to equality in the union.

It may seem counter-intuitive how these proposals, if adopted, would diminish my voice as a BCTF member. On face value the proposals appear to amplify my voice. If they are adopted, I could self-identify as gay and therefore would become eligible to hold a seat on the EC that is reserved only for me and others like me (the other members of a newly created special class of membership – specifically the class of not-straight/cis members). How would the creation of this new class of membership, permitting me to hold a seat on the EC that others (straight/cis members) are barred from holding, diminish my voice in the union?

I am a trade unionist. I have been a labour organizer, committed to the principles of socialism and anti-poverty organizing for over thirty years. These experiences, plus my experience as a teacher, early child educator, college instructor, self-regulatory policy advisor, and communications specialist for unions and labour councils inform much of my work as a committed union activist. I also draw from all my life experiences in my union activism, including as an AIDS activist and a Queer Nation activist, to help inform my positions and priorities in my work for our union. That I immigrated to Canada from the United States, so I could legally marry my now husband at a time when the right to marriage equality was not yet recognized in my home country, informs how I approach leadership. 

Most relevant to my union organizing experience is that I was an organizer in the poor people’s economic human rights movement, which developed leadership capacity in low-income communities to build a movement to end poverty. In that role, I worked with unions, low-wage workers, community organizations, and other poor peoples’ organizations to help build and sustain this movement. 

In one campaign we demanded an end to poverty-wages for cleaners at a baseball stadium in Baltimore, Maryland. The outcome: Workers’ wages were tripled, and they eventually joined a union – sustaining the wage victory through a collective agreement that pegged wages to the state’s living wage. In another campaign, I helped organize early childhood educators at UBC. Workers demanded, and achieved, a 20% “pay correction” through this campaign. The pay correction was secured when the provincial mandate was “net zero” – meaning that there were to be no pay increases for public sector workers in that round of bargaining (no increases that raised overall costs for the province). Yet, the bargaining unit that I organized not only exceeded zero, but we also achieved a 20% raise. 

I have also been a vice president, bargaining chair, labour council liaison, local election contact, community organizer, and social justice contact. I have served on the Professional Issues Advisory Committee. I was media consultant to the Toronto and York Region Labour Council. I was president of the North Coast Labour Council. I was also president of a housing co-op. In all these roles, I fought for the rights, pay, living conditions, and working conditions of all workers and all community members.

If I were ever to run for a position on the EC, why might BCTF members consider electing me to the EC? How would I like to be considered for this position in our union? Am I first and foremost an experienced and deeply committed trade unionist, who has been a labour organizer for thirty years and who always fights on behalf of the bargaining unit as a whole? Am I a teaching professional committed to the public school system, teachers’ professional autonomy, and equal access to education for all students and communities? Or am I first and foremost a “representative” of asexual, bisexual, homosexual, pansexual, two-spirit, and trans persons? More importantly, on which basis ought the membership elect anymember to our union’s executive committee? Should we each be judged on only one aspect of ourselves or on our entire selves, as complex persons who bring all our experiences, values, judgements, perspectives, commitments, and priorities to the position?

I oppose discrimination against asexual persons at work or in their union, not because I am homosexual but because I believe that there should be no discrimination based on sexual orientation for any member. Likewise, I oppose discrimination against bisexual and pansexual members because everyone has a right to equal treatment at work and in their union. I am also opposed to discrimination based on the sexual orientation of heterosexual members. While I do not express myself as a trans person, I oppose workplace and union discrimination against trans persons – because all barriers to equal access and all affronts to dignity against trans persons should be removed and opposed by the BCTF as a whole union.

Some in the BCTF propose I should be provided with the special opportunity to hold a seat on the EC that would be designated for people like me, but not others, based on our sexual orientation and/or gender expression/identity. This proposal is unacceptable – not only because it is unfair to the straight/cis persons who would be denied a seat based on their sexual identity and/or gender expression/identity but also because it is insulting to me. I am much more than a gay worker and I would expect that my union recognize me as more than any single point of my identity.

When you vote on behalf of the PRDTU membership on proposals that would build discrimination based on sexual orientation into the union’s governance structure I request that you do so based on what you think is both principled and fair for all members. I also request that if you support discrimination based on sexual orientation, then please say this and be honest that this is your position – taken based on your beliefs and values (and not on behalf of others, certainly not on behalf of me as a gay member). And if you oppose discrimination based on sexual orientation, then please take this position openly – even if you may be called homophobic or transphobic by those who do not agree with your position. As an out gay person, I know what it means to called nasty names. But name calling by others should never lead anyone to abandon their core principles or to hide in silence. 

In solidarity,

Tom Kertes,

Why I Support Public Water and Public Sewer

I support public water and public sewer for Prince Rupert for these reasons:

  1. I don’t want to pay more for my water and sewer service. I prefer to save money.
  2. It makes sense to run water and sewer as a monopoly (because this saves money) but this requires that the city control and operate the system (again, because this saves money).
  3. I believe in the local government’s capacity to provide quality services to city residents and businesses. We should retain local control over our city’s water and sewer system.

We all need water and sewer services. We need clean water to survive. A city simply won’t work without a sewer system. That’s why every home and every business in Prince Rupert is hooked up to the city’s water and sewer system. We need both systems to live here.

City governments exist to serve residents and businesses with the basics required for people to live together in tight quarters: Trash and recycling needs to be managed. We need roads to connect homes and businesses to each other and to the world beyond the city. We need airports and seaports for the same reasons. We need power lines, water lines, sewer lines, and communication lines. We need police and fire protection.

For these kinds of essential services, the most efficient way to provide them is through public monopolies.

Take fire services as an example. It makes no sense to have more than one fire service that would duplicate each other and compete for customers. If there were two systems in our town, why have double the needed stations, double the needed trucks, double the needed firefighters? And what would you do if your neighbour opted out of having a fire service – and then their fire spreads to your house? Instead, we have one fire service that everyone pays into and that provides service for everyone. Nobody can opt out of it and we all benefit because of that.

We do the same for water and sewer service. Imagine if there were several water systems providing these services on a commercial basis. They’d overlap each other. Everything would be duplicated. (And some people may have no service since only profitable properties would be attract the attention of the providers.) We don’t have multiple water and sewer systems because it would be a colossal waste of money to do things that way. Instead, we pool our resources as residents and businesses and share one system between all of us.

Monopolies are efficient. They cost less to operate. But they can be more expensive for customers or users, because the operators of monopolies don’t have any competition. They can charge the highest possible price, especially if the monopoly controls something that everyone actually needs (like water, fire protection, police protection, sewage, trash and recycling collection, etc.). That’s why we need our monopolies to be publicly run – under the oversight of our elected leaders.

Cities operate monopolies that are directly accountable to residents and businesses because we live in a democracy. We elect the people in charge of the monopolies that we all depend on. This is how we can have the efficiency of the monopoly without paying the price of a monopoly. Because government is elected, voters want to have the needed service at the lowest price. Political leaders know this and that is why core city services are done efficiently and at a lower cost than the private sector would provide for these kinds of services (core city services).

(And, cities don’t make profits. That saves us from having to pay higher prices to cover profit margins.)

I believe in the system we have. I believe in local democracy and I like how it functions to make us work together as a community. Our system is not perfect and requires that active participation by everyone, but the system does a good job of balancing out interests and connecting everyone together.

Under this system of local government, we rely on each other to meet our needs together. I believe that our system of government and our system of sharing local resources and services works well. And that’s why I want to keep our water and sewer system under municipal operation and control.

Keeping public water and public sewer public saves money. It supports community. It strengthens local democracy. It allows us to control how services are provided at the local level. And it helps us work together for the benefit of the community as a whole.

Tom Kertes is a public school teacher in Prince Rupert, in the territory of the Ts’msyen.