I’ve been following the news of Ontario’s Bill C-13, the Accepting Schools Act, with interest as the story has unfolded. This week, the legislation passed 65-36, with Liberal and NDP members voting for it, and all PC members voting against (as told here). It has become a very emotional issue, surrounding this portion of the legislation:
303.1 Every board shall support pupils who want to establish and lead,(a) activities or organizations that promote gender equity;(b) activities or organizations that promote anti-racism;(c) activities or organizations that promote the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people with disabilities; or(d) activities or organizations that promote the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, including organizations with the name gay-straight alliance or another name.
Perspectives towards this legislation have been varied, to say the least.
A sample of the support for the legislation has been posted on this government website. Among those speaking in support of the legislation are Nancy Kirby, President of Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association, Catherine Fife, President of the Ontario Public School Boards’ Association, Gordon Floyd, President and CEO of Children’s Mental Health Ontario, and Kevin O’Dwyer, President of the Ontario English Catholic Teacher’s Association.
There are many detractors as well.
One prominent group has been members of Ontario Catholic School Boards. Many have pushed heavily for a generic name for student groups, not using the words “Gay-Straight Alliance”. They have accused the Liberals of being needlessly polarizing and forcing the schools to go against Catholic Church teachings, as shown here. Another example of religious complaints against the legislation is available in this release by the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.
Another group vocally against the legislation is Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party. Randy Hillier, PC, MPP for Lanark, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington, shares his thoughts on the legislation here.
There are deep convictions on both sides of the issue. These are my thoughts on the legislation, and why it is important.
One of the arguments against this legislation is that it is up to parents to change their children, not the government. It is true parents need to step in and teach their children respect, respect for everything they think they need to bully another person for, including physical size, sex, age, race, religion, sexual orientation. The legislation does mention that this is an important component:
Acknowledge that an open and ongoing dialogue among the principal, school staff, parents and students is an important component in creating a positive school climate in which everyone feels safe and respected.
But what do we do when a parent refuses/is unable to do so, and the schoolmates suffer? Schools already have methods to deal with bullying, but it still is very persistent (with current estimates of 1/3 of entire student population bullied), and students have committed suicide because they can see no other way out of their torment.
Specifically, what is done for children that are victims of bullying because of their sexual orientation? Several people I grew up with are gay, but tried to mask that they were to avoid bullying while in school, and only came out after leaving Wiarton. No one should have to lie to themselves and others about who they are for fear of bullying.
Also, what if their parents are the bullies? Many homosexual people can’t even turn to their own family for support.
The creation of safe spaces for students, specifically Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs), is commendable. No school board or principal should be allowed to stop such a positive group from forming when students in their school want to create one. Post-secondary schools are already forming these (or similar) groups, to create safe spaces for people who are adults. I think it is that much more important that these groups are available to students that may have no other place to turn.
Comments by people like MPP Hilliers that this legislation is a waste of time overlooks the fact that at least one PC member believes that a similar legislation should be passed. PC MPP Lisa MacLeod (Nepean-Carleton) tabled Bill C-14, the Anti-Bullying Act (also known as the counter-Bill C-13) that is very similar to the one presented by the Liberals, except that it didn’t make reference to sexual orientation at all. I believe that the PCs believe in the importance of this legislation by the government, but without wanting to offend the Catholic School Board or their conservative base.
It has also been argued that these new clubs would be exclusive instead of inclusive. This argument ignores the nature of groups like gay-straight alliances, which encourages all people to participate in a respectful manner. I wish that these groups had existed when I grew up. I understand that they will not be a quick fix to deep-rooted bullying issues, but I feel that it is a positive step in bringing people of all sexual orientations together for discussion, with the goal of moving towards understanding and acceptance.
I am particularly troubled by the religious arguments against supporting this legislation. My understanding is that Christianity should accept any movement to protect persecuted and abused people, most especially vulnerable people such as children, and should not be leading the charge against that action. The fact that students in Ontario today can go to a public school that is dictated by the Vatican belief that homosexual acts are “acts of grave depravity” that are “intrinsically disordered” and “contrary to the natural law” demonstrates why this legislation is so important. It also begs the question of why Ontario still has a publically funded Catholic School Board.
I was bullied throughout my childhood, for being small for my age, for being artistic, and for enjoying reading. There were days I dreaded going to school, and felt trapped because I knew that if I turned to my parents or teachers for help, my life might only become worse by drawing further attention. Everyone is different, and anything that can be done to break down stereotypes and prejudice should be encouraged. That is why I think Bill C-13 matters.