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The Fight For Gay-Straight Alliances Continues After Anti-Bullying Legislation

Pam Johnson

June 22, 2012

After pressure from queer youth and their allies, the Ontario government passed new anti-bullying legislation—Bill 13, the Accepting Schools Act—on June 5. Its purpose is to give clear guidelines to schools about what constitutes bullying and how it can be dealt with. One provision calls for the creation of gay-straight alliances (GSAs).

The new legislation passed without support from Ontario Tories. It was criticized by Catholic Archbishop of Toronto, Thomas Collins, for including amendments calling for GSAs, saying it gives particular emphasis to members of the LGBT community.

However, the emphasis on LGBT students is supported by statistics about who gets bullied in school. LGBT students are twice as likely to face bullying as heterosexual students. It is the number two reason, after appearance, why students say they are bullied, and one in three gay teens has attempted suicide—more than twice the rate of heterosexual teens.

Although the Catholic school board allows GSAs to exist, they cannot be named “gay-straight.” School Boards have proposed and, in some cases, imposed names such as “Open Arms” or “Accepting Difference.” But students who wish to form these alliances say that it is critical that the focus of the group is clear from the name, and part of the purpose is to name homosexuality in school without shame.

The Accepting Schools Act is a legislative step forward that would not have come about without pressure from below. But opposition to its implementation continues—not only from the Catholic school board but also the Liberal government cuts—to education assistants, teachers, and other resources—that deprive this legislation of real teeth. The fight continues for both accepting and well-funded schools, against homophobia and austerity.

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