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Ontario tightens Bill 13 so school boards can't reject GSAs


Ontario tightens Bill 13 so school boards can't reject GSAs

Education Minister Laurel Broten announces the change in language at the Sheraton Hotel.Toronto Catholic District School Board student Claire Purdy, who has been fighting for a GSA at her school. IMAGE 1 OF 2
Coalition lawyer anticipates a challenge by Catholic trustees
Ontario Education Minister Laurel Broten called a news conference May 25 to announce that she is removing any ambiguity by tightening up the language in the Liberals' Accepting Schools Act to ensure Catholic school boards can not refuse students who want to form gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in their schools.

The decision comes on the heels of a strong push by activists following the revelation that the bill's language was left intentionally vague to avoid a court challenge by Catholic trustees.

In the weeks leading up to the decision, the standing committee for social policy at Queen’s Park had heard deputations on the legislation. Many religious groups and parents spoke strongly against Bill 13 and GSAs, calling the legislation a “radical sex education agenda.”

Broten says it was the deputations by queer youth fighting for GSAs that struck an emotional chord and forced her to rethink her position.

“During those hearings, we heard loud and clear that it is important that students who want to establish student-led, single-issue groups like gay-straight alliances in their schools should be supported and allowed to do so. We also heard that they should be allowed to call these groups ‘gay-straight alliances.’”

“It should not be up to us at Queen’s Park to determine what these groups should be called. We believe it should be up to the students. Student voices are what really matter.”

In the initial version of Bill 13, board administration could refuse to let students use the name GSA, or any name that uses the word gay. The language left a loophole, which was confirmed to Xtra by Nancy Kirby, president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association (OCSTA) on May 15. Kirby said that GSAs will "never" be allowed in Catholic schools.

A new line has now been added: “For greater certainty, neither the board nor the principal shall refuse to allow a pupil to use the name gay-straight alliance or a similar name for an organization described in clause.”

Claire Purdy, a student in the Toronto Catholic District School Board who has been trying for a year to start a GSA at her school, cheered when Xtra gave her the news. “Oh wow! That’s so great. I am jumping up and down!”

“This means that students now have a newfound hope that their schools can’t shut them down. It will give so much more confidence to the gay youth, and the straight youth, who want to start a club where everyone feels accepted and united, called whatever they want, and they can’t be turned down,” Purdy says.

St Joseph Catholic Secondary School student Christopher Mckerracher was speechless. “Wow, that’s perfect.”

Ontario GSA Coalition lawyer Doug Elliott says the language change makes the legislation airtight. “It’s a home run. It’s exactly the clarification we were hoping for,” he says. “At first, the Liberals were hesitant to go the extra mile, but I am pleased that they have, and I think it's supported by the vast majority of the people in Ontario.”

Elliott says he anticipates a court challenge from the Catholic school boards. The issue has already divided the Progressive Conservative caucus.

“This now puts the ball in the court of the Catholic school trustees,” he says. “If they want to object, they will have to fight this. We now have additional ammunition. This now makes my job easier if we have to go to court, which I think we will.”

NDP education critic Peter Tabuns has been relentlessly pushing this issue in Question Period.

“I think that we’ve had an impact on them. We’ve raised this issue in the house from the day they introduced the bill,” he says. “Ultimately, it all hit home. The students and deputations were very powerful.”

The legislation moves to clause-by-clause reading on May 28 and 29, then to a final vote before the end of May.

  Bill 13 Amendments
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It has only been two years since I began requesting such a group at the school I attend; and I don't even know if someone tried before that. It is about time that this goes though, I hope it is in place before the next school year.
A new loophole?
According to the National Post, Laurel Broten, the Minister of Education, made it clear in an interview Monday that all school clubs would have teacher supervision. See: http://life.nationalpost.com/2012/05/28/church-rejects-ontarios-gay-straight-club-decision-accuses-government-of-micromanagement/ This could allow the Catholic Church to create another loophole to avoid GSAs: Catholic school boards could require that no GSA could be formed unless it had a faculty advisor. The Catholic school boards could then create hurdles that would make it difficult for LGBT students to officially obtain a faculty advisor, even if an LGBT-friendly teacher were willing to do it (e.g, requiring any potential faculty advisor to seek a multitude of internal approvals, prepare lenghty applications,forms and documents, etc.).
Separation of state and religion
The greater issue here is the defunding of the catholic education system. There should be separation between state and religion, where the state is no longer responsible for funding catholic schools or schools of any other religious ideology. Religion should be indoctrinated at home and not in a publicly funded institution.
Congrats especially to Catholic Students for GSAs, Queer Ontario and ONDP committee members Cheri DiNovo and Peter Tabuns who ignored those who tweeted about Section 93 (ie. Glen Murray and his big binder of excuses and deflections) and those who said the Liberals had gone as far as they were "willing and able." We see now that the "realists" were wrong and those who continued to apply pressure were right to do so.
Also many thanks to Rosario Marchese who first introduced this issue on the floor of the legislature back in March of last year (after a meeting with Queer Ontario and upon reading Andrea Houston's report on a group of students in Mississauga who were denied a GSA at their school) and continued to push for GSA protections when met with silence by the government and the mainstream media.
And Onatrio NDP leader Andrea Horwath who was publicly behind the students from the start. Horwath publicly called for protections early last year, met with Catholic Students for GSAs' Leanne Iskander at Pride Toronto, campaigned during the election to support GSAs (note: the amended bill is exactly what the NDP was calling for, yet they were slammed for it -- odd how it is how seen as a success) , and publicly raised red flags about missing GSA protections in Bill 13 when it was first introduced (she said, "This legislation provides an opportunity for schools to disallow certain names if they wish. How wrong is that? If young people want to name their group gay-straight alliance they should have the opportunity to do that. Period. By not allowing students to use the word gay, you’re telling them that they’re wrong. It’s almost like you’re forcing kids back in the closet by saying they can’t use the word gay."). Horwath was even behind GSAs - explicit GSA protections - back when EGALE refused to touch the issue.
And many thanks to The Grid for clearing up the confusion (misinformation) that had many people believing the original - unamende
Clean up the Catholic house
Rather that continue to direct efforts opposing LGBT students who want to form GSAs in publicly-funded Catholic schools, Catholic officials should focus on cleaning up corruption at the Vatican. See: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/popes-butler-arrested-in-vatican-leaked-documents-scandal/article2444388/
Thank Goodness
I'm so glad to hear this. I was disturbed by how opposed it is... really? Are we really that closed-minded?? It's downright shameful. I'm grateful that this bill was created, it's so desperately needed especially in this age of so much communication..even when we do not want that communication (i.e. online bullying). GSA's will provide much needed support for struggling youths.
This is great news.
It's been about 2 years since I tried to raise the alarm that Ontario's Catholic schools have a de facto -- and perfectly legal! -- ban on GSAs, Charter be damned. Few people believed it, but, thanks to Andrea Houston's tireless efforts, everyone now knows it to be true: Ontario's publicly funded Catholic schools can discriminate against gays in student clubs (and in teacher hiring) LEGALLY! So now it's time to escalate up through the courts until we finally solve this medieval, shameful anachronism. Public funding is for public schools, open to and welcoming of EVERY STUDENT, regardless of their religion or sexual orientation.

If you REALLY want to send your kid to a Catholic school, then you;ll have to pay for it yourself, just like every other religion has to do everywhere else in the free world. You won't be able to spread medieval hatred with my tax dollars anymore.

Time to amend the Constitution.
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