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

Published on June 27, 2013

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.

rebekah.ward@thetelegram.com