Update on the Gay-Straight Alliance ban

The saga of the ban on Gay-Straight Alliances in this province’s Catholic schools continues. However, there is much cause to be optimistic.

This past November, the McGuinty government introduced Bill 13, also known as the “Accepting Schools Act.” Among the provisions in the bill is the following:

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.

In other words, if this passes, Catholic boards would no longer be able to block support groups for queer students. If you want a reminder as to why Catholic representatives oppose these support groups to begin with, Teresa Pierre, director of Ontario Catholic Parent Advocates, says it best:

[Pierre] said her group believes that Dalton McGuinty, the Premier of Ontario, wants to force Catholic schools to allow groups like gay-straight alliances that would end up promoting homosexuality as acceptable, something that goes against official Church teaching.

Bill 13 passed second reading in December and is awaiting third reading. I’m pleased at the wording of this legislation and at the rapid evolution of the party behind it. How far the Liberal Party of Ontario has come in only a year.

As noted earlier, the bill does face opposition. The Ottawa Sun had an op-ed piece on the matter, calling the legislation “gay rights being forced on religious schools.” Another writer, this time for the National Post, stated that in lifting the ban on the support groups would constitute a “violation of Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms.” These writers are not alone in their views.

The opponents are framing this as a question of rights, but I suspect that it’s just the most convenient explanation to justify underlying prejudice. The rights argument itself is a shaky one, as the right being claimed here is the right to marginalize children because they’re born different. I believe that such frivolous invocation of infringement of religious liberties erodes the public’s perception of real violations of religious freedoms that do take place.

In other news, the Ontario Catholic Schools Trustees Association released their guidelines for the diversity groups they wish to have queer students join instead of the banned GSA. According to those very guidelines, however, any discussion on gender identity would be “inappropriate” to discuss in the forums and gay students would be viewed as “intrinsically disordered.” Not exactly what I’d consider support, and a reminder of why this provincial legislation is necessary.

Update February 7th 2012: I’m not sure what to make of the interview with Education Minister Laurel Broten on TVO’s The Agenda yesterday. In the last minutes of the show, its host, Steve Paikin, asked the education minister some questions about GSAs and the “diversity groups” I derided above.

Her responses made me question whether the government would in fact end the ban, or whether they would allow it to continue as long as these false support groups were present.