Man says same-sex couples excluded from taking in exchange students

Rebekah Ward
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A St. John’s man says he was turned down from hosting an exchange student based on his sexual orientation.

Dustin Hirschkorn lives in a house with his same-sex partner. About two weeks ago the pair decided they wanted to host an international exchange student in their home, and approached the principal of  Prince of Wales Collegiate.

This week, Hirschkorn received a call from Mark Ward, who is the executive director of Newfoundland International Student Education Program (NISEP), about his offer.

Hirschkorn said he was disappointed to learn he was not eligible to receive an exchange student through NISEP, and further dismayed the conversation led him to believe he was denied on the basis of his sexual orientation.

“I was speaking to (Ward). Everything seemed fine. Everything was great,” Hirschkorn said.

“He was very enthusiastic at first on the phone, he asked me all the standard questions, you know, how big is your house, how many rooms does it have, how many people live in the house. And I told him, I said, it was myself and my roommate.”

Then, according to Hirschkorn, the conversation turned sour.

“He said, ‘oh, you know, is it your girlfriend, or your wife, or is it just another roommate,’ and I said, ‘well no, he’s my partner.’ And he said, ‘Well, what do you mean?’ And I said, ‘He’s my boyfriend.’ Then there was about a minute of silence, where I said hello a couple of times, and then he said ‘Well, we typically don't place international students in that sort of living accommodations.’ So that’s basically what ended up happening.”

Hirschkorn gave this account to The Telegram Wednesday for the second time, after detailing his experience by email .

“I was taken aback by it. I was very offended by what he had said to me,” Hirschkorn said.

 “Up until yesterday, I thought we lived in a free country where, you know, I was able to do this kind of thing, right? And it really upset me, because I’m looking at the news and watching the news, and seeing how in the United States they’re still fighting for these kinds of freedoms, which I thought I was given here in Canada. But I guess I’m not.”

His initial frustration was directed at the school board, as he did not know the name of the organization calling him.

However, Eastern School District director of communications Ken Morrissey explained the board does not deal with homestay placements, but rather redirects contact information to private recruiters.

“When it comes to the accommodation, where (the students) are and how that is determined, that’s really between the recruiter, the student, and I guess their families.

“We are not involved in that process. At this time, our focus is really on academics,” Morrissey said.

The recruiters do deal with the school board, though they communicate about school placement rather than accommodation.

“I understand there are four (recruiters) that we do work with,” Morrissey said.

“They do some work with certain countries and the like, and I guess seek out students, or students may contact them if they are interested.

“The recruiters deal with staff at our district office. We provide a letter of acceptance that they would need in order to receive a student visa and come to the country.”

When contacted by The Telegram, Ward was surprised by Hirschkorn’s strong reaction to their conversation.

“We do not discriminate on any basis including gender, sexual orientation, marital status, age, race or religion,” Ward said.

Organizations: Prince of Wales Collegiate, Eastern School

Geographic location: United States, Canada

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Recent comments

  • verberat
    July 13, 2013 - 19:47

    There is nothing wrong with encouraging full acceptance of homosexuality and bisexuality in society. It certainly won't hurt anyone. It should be seen as normal and equal to heterosexuality, because it is! A huge benefit to society is that same-sex couples can adopt babies to give them a loving home and family.

  • Dee
    June 27, 2013 - 16:01

    This is terrible I know a lot of same sex couples women and men,these people are not pedafiles or child molesters they just prefer the same sex,what is the difference placing a young person with a married couple who knows that the woman or the man are not going to sexually try and take avantage of the student,this is crap if you ask me.My son just came back from a school trip with teachers I did not know,how would I know if a female or a male teacher would not become attracted to my child.Me I would not let this go.

  • learning curve
    June 27, 2013 - 13:06

    I am openly gay and have hosted several exchange programs. Maybe exposure to different cultures/lifestyles is what these young people need. I hosted a Jamaican program once (Jamaica is extremely homophobic) and all the participants in the program were great and very accepting. Whoever is responsible for finding housing for these students is doing a rotten job. I was asked outright about my sexual orientation in my first conversation with the program supervisor. And by the way Comfortable Placements- according to your logic,if students are from a homophobic background,they should be place in a homophobic household?? Most of the students who apply for these programs are fairly open minded in the first place,they want to learn about and accept new things. Also,I imagine that participants for these programs are screened,so that they at least have the coping skills to survive in a different culture.

  • Mary
    June 27, 2013 - 12:24

    I think this is totaling wrong,this man could have given those students a comfortable friendly home,while they were here. I don,t know him or his partner,but,like heterosexual couples,I,m sure he wasn't going to push his sexuality on anyone.Too bad.

  • Chantal
    June 27, 2013 - 11:13 wouldn't place a racist with a non-racist family.

    • Chelsea
      June 29, 2013 - 17:15

      Uh, racism isn't generally condoned in our society - we don't accommodate racists and we shouldn't accommodate homophobes.

  • comfortable placements
    June 27, 2013 - 11:00

    International students and their parents need to be comfortable with their placements. You wouldn't place a non-Christian with a family that requires them to go to Church every week. You wouldn't place a young single girl with an older single man. Likewise, you wouldn't put someone from a social conservative background with a same-sex couple. While these students come to Canada to be exposed to new cultures, their placement home needs to be a sanctuary where they can feel at ease when overwhelmed by the world they are discovering. Very very few cultures accept homosexuality as we do here in Canada and we need to be as accommodating of them.