NOTE: An earlier version of this post mistakenly suggested the bill would affect schools across Canada. We regret the error.
With a growing awareness of bullying and its effects on vulnerable schoolkids, the provincial government in Ontario is pushing legislation that would require every school, including Catholic institutions, to allow LGBT students and allies to organize school-approved groups—and to allow them to be called Gay-Straight Alliances.
Previously, the Accepting Schools Act would have allowed principals to veto the name of any club.
In a bid to curb bullying with more clout for schools to expel students who pick on others, the bill requires school boards to support student groups for “people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, including organizations with the name gay-straight alliance or another name.”
That language gave schools an escape clause when it came to naming clubs, which can be formed for any common interest or need for mutual support that students identify.
The Progressive Conservatives and some parents and religious leaders have urged the government to remove any reference to gays, lesbians or transgendered students in the bill, saying the mention infers a special status not available to other children who might be victims of bullying for other reasons.
The Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association has pushed Premier Dalton McGuinty — a Catholic whose wife, Terri, teaches in the Catholic system — to have any new student clubs aimed at preventing bullying to be called “Respecting Differences” clubs.
In a 12-page missive on the issue last winter, the trustee group did not once mention the word “gay.”
Conservatives might think they can pretend teens don’t have any sexuality, but Broten made the point that ignoring the fact that LGBT kids are singled out for harassment and violence is irresponsible. “If we can’t name it, we can’t address it,” she said. “And we must address it.” Broten hopes to pass the amended anti-bullying bill before the legislative session ends for the summer on June 7.
Douglas Elliott of the Ontario Gay-Straight Alliance Coalition voiced his support for the new amendment to the bill—and his displeasure at critics. “If the Conservatives continue to oppose this,” he said, “they’re going to end up on the wrong side of this political question.”