The contentious clause in Bill 13 reads:
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.
The 303.1(d) is the clause that people have either manned the gates to defend (often over-interpreting it to mean every school must
support the creation of create gay-straight alliances) or storm the gates to destroy by making the same interpretation. Which of course, has led media coverage on this, some examples:
- Waterloo Region Record editorial
- Canadian Press coverage
- Belleville Intelligencer checks with the local Catholic board
And all the big players chipped in as well. I was particularly impressed by the night-after-night coverage given by CBC Radio's As it Happens, which had the opposition on one night, Minister Laurel Broten on the next, a student who pushed for a GSA at her Catholic school and then the subsequent response from the president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association.
All the coverage that I've seen neglects to mention the related Policy and Program Memoranda 144 from 2009, upon which Bill 13 adds a legislative and regulatory framework.
So what can we determine from all this?
- LGBTQ kids get bullied in school due to their differences from a perception of what 'normal' should be.
- Lots of other kids get bullied in school regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion, gender, fashion sense, etc. for the same reasons.
- Lots of bullying happens at school because that's where kids spend most of their day.
- Schools reflect our culture in how well or poorly they've responded to bullying.
I've never believed that GSAs (or whatever the hell you end up calling them) are a panacea because they're not. They can be instrumental in helping build a culture within a school community that's more accepting of all students regardless of sexual or gender orientation, but we shouldn't be so naive as to believe that the mere presence of those three words to a club in a school fixes all bullying. It doesn't and it won't.
Does that mean they shouldn't be part of Bill 13?
The Liberal government has hit the right tone with Sec. 9 of this bill, which amends Sec. 303 of the Education Act. It allows students to decide what sorts of student groups they'd like to have in their own schools. It (deftly?) allows the innate conflict of funding a faith-based school system that is outright against promoting any sexual/gender behaviour that doesn't lead to procreation (and, of course, even then not until you're duly married) and the requirement to accept all students to continue. As I've written in the past, until we get a government that wants to tackle the Catholic board question, we should stop being surprised when Catholic schools behave in a manner consistent with the tenets of their faith.
My worry? In our preoccupation over whether or not some kid at a Catholic school can name their club a gay-straight alliance, we're taking our eye off the ball. We're becoming obsessed with three words that in and of themselves don't do that much to change our culture-- one built upon bullying in so many different layers. The people in that club, whatever it's actually called, are the ones that will act to change others' behaviour. That can happen regardless of the name of the club -- heck, it can happen regardless of whether there is a club to begin with.