Wednesday, July 21, 2010

To the Wonderful Murray Corren: You are Esteemed in My Canada

"The Rights Revolution is about enhancing our right to be equal, while protecting our right to be different." - Michael Ignatieff, The Rights Revolution, CBC Massey Lectures, 2000

The Tyee is running a series of excerpts from Marci McDonalds' book: The Armageddon Factor. In the first they tell the story of Murray Corren - "... one half of the gay couple behind the most provocative revamping of the provincial curriculum since the government first dared to inform students about the verboten subject of sex."

Murray and his spouse Peter, filed a suit against the B.C. government for what they called "systemic gender discrimination" and won the right to run an "elective course to combat not only homophobia but bigotry of every kind, including biases against the disabled, the homeless and the poor."

Members of the Religious Right were outraged and spoke of an illusive "homosexual agenda", while they mobilized and fought to have Corren's course kept out of the schools.

Standing before the Social Justice 12 class, Corren looks incapable of provoking such inflammatory prose, but as a veteran of nearly every gay-rights fight in the province, he is clearly the incarnation of James Dobson's worst nightmare -- a symbol of everything the religious right deems wrong with public education. Murray Corren might have rhymed off statistics to the class: 82 per cent of gay students report being bullied and 48 per cent confess to contemplating suicide. He could have recounted the tragedies of two American adolescents who'd actually been driven to kill themselves, one found hanged by an electrical cord in his closet after being taunted as a "fag" by classmates.

Instead, Corren relates a condensed version of his own biography, growing up as Murray Warren in a bleak Newfoundland mining town where he was mocked at school as a "sissy" and occasionally limped home with a bloody nose. It is a calculated strategy, he admits, to stress the personal, not the political. "All the research shows that if you actually know somebody who is gay," he says, "it's much harder to discriminate."

I found that last statement very compelling and can relate through my own experiences. No I'm not gay, but understand that once you know someone who could be the subject of discrimination, it removes your fears.

We adopted our daughter 30 years ago, knowing that she was having some developmental issues. Since both of her birth parents were alcoholics, she had been diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. At school, she was put in a special class and as a result was often the subject of ridicule.

Eight years ago, our daughter gave birth to a son, who would not have been able to inherit FAS, but was born with many characteristics similar to those shared by his mom. Tests revealed that both had a rare genetic disorder called Coffin-Lowry Syndrome. The females carry the gene but the males get the worst of the symptoms.

This beautiful little boy, who we have been raising since birth, is deaf and has a great deal of difficulty forming words. His gait is awkward because of low muscle tone and his glasses too large for his face. His growth is stunted and his cognitive skills far below those of his age group.

But that is not the story.

When we first took him to orientation for kindergarten, I was apprehensive about how he would be received, not only by the other children, but by the parents who might wonder if a child who needs so much extra attention, would affect their own children's education.

But as we walked around the classroom and I signed to my grandson, trying to make him aware of what the teacher was saying, one parent raised her hand and asked if their children would have an opportunity to learn sign language. I could have kissed her.

My fears immediately subsided.

He is now in grade three and I can't tell you how many times children have come up to us when we're out, and state that they go to his school. They often tell me some of the things that he is unable to, but there is something else that I have noticed. They will always go to the front of Nicholas and speak directly into his face. Many know at least a bit of sign and the communication is effortless.

They now know someone who is not quite the same as them, making it far more difficult for them to discriminate.

So I applaud the Correns for their courage. They don't have to do this. I'm sure they could live without the verbal abuse. But they are doing it so that children can grow up knowing all kinds of wonderful people. A lesson many of their parents could learn.

So I'm going to dedicate one of my favourite videos to them. Not because they are the "crazy ones" or "misfits", but because they have the courage to help change the world.


  1. What a perfect piece to read to end my day. Think Different - I like that one too ;-) 