The Ontario Government announced Friday that it intends to amend Bill 13 – The Accepting Schools Act – to ensure that high school students across the province will be able to form “gay-straight alliances” and, believe it or not, even use the word “gay” in the group’s name.
Until now the Liberal government had held that, despite it being the exact opposite of “accepting,” school principals would be able to veto the names of the groups if the individual schools found them to be inappropriate.
According to a statement on the government website dated November 30, 2011, the bill as it was initially presented was intended to “help create safer, more accepting schools.” One of its major tenets would ensure school boards supported the efforts of students to form inclusion groups to “promote gender equity, anti-racism, understanding and respect for people with disabilities and people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, including groups with the name gay-straight alliance or another name”.
The last three words of this statement left the door open for principals or school boards who disagreed with using the “gay-straight alliance” title to force the group to take on more ambiguous names like “Respecting Differences.”
Not surprisingly people were concerned that forcing students to leave out the word “gay” would make it hard for students to believe that homosexuality was actually accepted. The Ottawa Citizen summed this matter up perfectly in their May 25 editorial:
… tolerance as an abstract policy means nothing in an environment where the very word “gay” is only ever spoken as a whisper or a slur. If a school declares the word “gay” to be off-limits for clubs, it’s hard to imagine how that school could be a safe place for a young gay student to have an open, respectful conversation with a teacher about the names the other kids are calling him.
Ontario’s Minister of Education Laurel Broten indicated that the about-face came after a series of committee hearings on Bill 13 heard “loud and clear” that students should be able to form these groups and that they ought to be able to be called “gay-straight alliances.”
GSAs are peer support groups for high school students, queer, questioning and allies, to come together and help work through issues surrounding homosexuality, inclusion and combating homophobia in their communities.
In recent weeks one Ontario Catholic School board has seen the spotlight after two of its trustees brought forward a motion for the board to approve GSAs in all their high schools. Before the issue could be tabled and debated upon by the Waterloo Catholic District School Board the trustee presenting the motion withdrew it after a request from the chair.
After all, if a group of adults getting paid to discuss matters of student inclusion and safety can’t handle a discussion about GSAs, how do we expect a bunch of teenagers who are actually struggling with these matters to do any better?