Pressure to pass anti-bullying Bill 13 in Ontario
The topic of Gay Straight Alliances and teen bullying is once again about to make headlines in Ontario. In response to bans on GSA’s in Catholic schools, the province’s Education Minister proposed Bill 13 to promote and protect activities to fight homophobic bullying. After a few months of protest from religious zealots, and a counter-bill that’s now dropped, Bill 13 may have a fighting chance…
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In November of last year, Ontario Education Minister, Laurel Broten introduced Bill-13: “An Act to amend the Education Act with respect to bullying and other matters.” Known as The Accepting Schools Act, the legislation’s stated intent is to prevent gender-based violence and incidents based on homophobia & transphobia, to provide better support for students affected by bullying, and support student-led initiatives to stop all forms of bullying, discrimination, homophobia & transphobia.
This third part is where the bill’s progress got a bit tricky. “Despite the fact that the Accepting Schools Act will make a major impact at stopping bullying, there have been very aggressive homophobic & transphobic responses by a variety of persons who do not want to support LGBTQ specific initiatives in our schools,” Ottawa youth outreach org Jer’s Vision said in a statement. The aggressive attacks came mostly at the end of March with a demonstration in front of the Ontario legislature in which religious zealots criticized the bill’s protection of Gay Straight Alliances and other pro-gay student groups. The critics included banned former radio host and known homophobe Charles McVety of Canada Christian “College” and right-wing Catholic Dan McCash of Campaign Life Coalition, who decry Bill 13 for promoting homosexual sex and potentially “confusing” children with the distinction between transgender and cisgender.
To support the passing of Bill 13, Egale Canada and PFLAG have formed the Ontario GSA Coalition, which has also gained the support of unions, the Canadian AIDS Society, and Catholics for Choice.
Marilyn Byers, chair of the Ontario GSA Coalition, urged the minority liberal government, the NDP and conservative opposition to work together to pass the bill before the legislature closes for the summer session. “We are afraid that unless all three parties agree to work together, LGBT students will face another school year without full equality in the province’s schools,” Byers said in a statement. “All students in Ontario have a right to a safe and supportive school environment,” she added, “and it will be tragic if the legislation is caught in the political crossfire of minority politics.”
The political crossfire was heightened by former Conservative education critic Elizabeth Witmer’s Bill 14, which contained many of the same principles as the Liberal Bill 13, but without enshrining students’ rights to form Gay Straight Alliances. In an unexpected turn, Witmer resigned as MLA last week, leaving the path for passing Bill 13 seemingly wide open.
Various groups supporting Bill 13 have found ways to increase the pressure on their politicians to pass the bill. Jer’s Vision released an anonymous letter from one of their participants at Ottawa’s Colonol By High School who is part of a GSA called Students Advocating for Equality (SAFE). “We, the students of Ontario, need GSAs and groups like SAFE in every school. We need to create a community within our schools that is accepting of everyone,” the student writes. “We need to help kids from every community, including the LGBT community, to find their voice,” it reads, poignantly signing off “We are talking. You should be listening.”
While Jer’s Vision has launched a petition in PDF form for people to send to their MLA in Ontario, the Ontario GSA Coalition is planning a rally on May 12, against in Queen’s Park in front of the Ontario Legislature, in a last-ditch attempt to raise awareness about the need to pass pass the bill.