Despite Bill 13 (Accepting Schools Act) being passed into Ontario Legislature in 2012, the ongoing struggle in Ontario Catholic School Boards to create and allow Gay/Straight Alliances (GSA) in schools continues to be an issue. Even when these groups are created in schools, they can face restrictions on events or activities they wish to hold or plan.
What Bill 13 States:
Within Bill 13, the purpose is stated clearly: “To encourage a positive school climate and prevent inappropriate behaviour, including bullying, sexual assault, gender-based violence and incidents based on homophobia, transphobia or biphobia.”
The bill also states that: “Every board shall support pupils who want to establish and lead activities and organizations that promote a safe and inclusive learning environment, the acceptance of and respect for others and the creation of a positive school climate, including,
(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.”
Along with tackling the issues of bullying (in all forms) and discrimination, Bill 13 was created to provide a better learning environment for all schools in Ontario. Unfortunately, the Roman Catholic Church has consistently fought against this legislation, stating that it was an infringement on religious freedom.
In my own experience, there are still issues within Catholic schools regarding GSAs and the extent they are allowed to act in their school communities. A prime example in my high school experience is still an ongoing debate between the students and members of the school’s Parent Council. The students wanted to fly a Pride flag during the month of June, as all public schools do in my region.
However, this was not approved by the members of our Parent Council, and many insisted that it could not be flown as it represented something against Catholic beliefs. There was eventually a compromise made so that the flag could be hung in the cafeteria of the school for the month, except it took 2 years for this compromise to be made.
Despite legislation being passed to try and protect students facing any form of bullying or discrimination, if there is a continued fight between the government and the church, then there can never be an end to the issue at hand. The more there is fighting, the more students will also begin to take a side based on their beliefs, which goes against the purpose of Bill 13 and is what perpetuates the cycle that continues in our schools today.
Unfortunately Canada, and Ontario in particular, is not as far along as people think we are.
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For more information on Bill 13, as well as the stance of the Catholic Church, please feel free to examine the sources below: