No barriers. No divisions. Because we are a union.

An Open Letter to the Delegates of the BCTF AGM

Dear Colleague:

As a BCTF member I oppose any proposed changes to our union’s by-laws that, if adopted, would elect members to the BCTF Executive Committee based on an individual’s sexual orientation and/gender identity/expression.

Here’s why:

Our Union Should Not Discriminate on the Basis of an Individual’s Sexual Orientation and/or Gender Identity/Expression

I oppose discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation (be they asexual, bisexual, heterosexual, homosexual, pansexual, queer, or questioning) and their gender identity/expression (be they cis, non-binary, trans, or two-spirit).

As a matter of fairness and equality, sexual orientation and gender identity/expression should not be the basis in determining one’s qualification to stand for any seat on the BCTF Executive Committee (or for any other position or role of the union, for that matter).

To reserve a seat on the Executive Committee only for members of a certain sexual orientation or gender identity/expression, to the detriment of those of a different orientation or identity/expression, would violate the democratic principles that our union should embody.

Moreover, excluding heterosexuals (who are cis) from a designated seat on the Executive Committee builds division within, and adds barriers to, our union’s governance structure. We should do neither: No barriers. No divisions.

Why? Because we are a union. The function of our union is to unite us, as professionals, in our shared interests as public school teachers, and to strengthen the profession of public education as a whole, not to divide ourselves and not to build barriers that prevent, or hinder, the full democratic participation of any of its members.

Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity/Expression Does Not Predict One’s Positions on Union Matters

A member’s sexual orientation or gender identity/expression does not predict what position that member will hold on any union matter. For example, a BCTF member who is straight/cis may support the designation of an Executive Committee seat based on sexual orientation. Likewise, a BCTF member who is gay may oppose this policy. Should only the gay member have a voice in this debate? Should only trans members speak on this issue? Or should only the straight/cis member? (Or should all members have an equal voice on all union matters and debates?)

Unions Must Be Democratic and Pluralistic for Fairness

A union must be democratic because, by forming a union, we unite and work as a collective. By doing this we each hand over control of our employment terms to the collective. Rather than individually negotiate the terms of each member’s own employment, we instead bind ourselves together into a union and we collectively bargain. We bargain together. And then we secure and maintain the gains made through this process by continually enforcing the the terms of the Collective Agreement – in solidarity with one another.

This serves all of our interests because we are stronger together. But our interests are only served well if the union is democratic, pluralistic, and focused on advancing our shared interests as teaching professionals – especially in terms of the compensation and working conditions for all members. Focusing on what unites us, by using democratic processes to determine what our shared interests are, is therefore integral to a well-functioning and relevant union.

By Removing Barriers and Overcoming Divisions, We Are Stronger

To be certain, our union is stronger when all barriers and divisions to leadership roles are removed, so that all members, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression, have equal access to serve on the Executive Committee.

There should be no barriers to teaching in British Columbia or Canada (in any publicly funded school or institution), or to serving as a union leader in the BCTF or any local teachers’ union, based on one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression. No barriers. No divisions. Again, this matters especially because we are a union. Unity, through democracy and pluralism, is our strength and is the role of our union. We should put nothing in the way of this.

The BCTF Should Continue to Fight for Equality for All

Indeed, our union is stronger when we reach out to members who face barriers with support to help them have a voice within the union. Likewise, our profession is stronger, and the rights of all students are respected, when the BCTF stands for equality for all, regardless of one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity/expression, and when diversity and pluralism are embraced by our profession and the public school system.

The union should be actively breaking down barriers and overcoming divisions, building inclusive unity that’s built on diversity and pluralism by engaging with all members through active and participatory democracy at all levels of the union.

Do Not Build Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity/Expression into the Union’s Structure

We should therefore, as a union, continue to support the inclusion of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities/expressions in the provincial curriculum, continue to remove all barriers and divisions based on sexual orientation or gender identity/expression in the profession and public school system, and continue to advance equality within our union. This includes ensuring that discrimination, based on sexual orientation or gender identity/expression, not be built into our union’s governance structures.

– Tom Kertes, Member of the PRDTU/BCTF

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