TORONTO, Ontario — The Accepting Schools Act, an anti-bullying measure also known as Bill 13, passed through the Legislative Assembly of Ontario on Tuesday by a vote of 65-36.
The bill, introduced by the Liberal Party led by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, was opposed by Progressive Conservatives, anti-gay groups, Catholic educators and church leaders because it would require all provincial schools, including the parochial institutions, to allow students to call anti-homophobia clubs “gay-straight alliances.”
“Why are Catholics not free to design their own methods to fight bullying, and provide personal support to students, as long as they attain the common goal of a welcoming and supportive school?” Collins asked.
“Why is a piece of provincial legislation being used to micromanage the naming of student clubs?” he said.
McGuinty told CBC news that the issue of protecting kids from bullying transcends all faiths and partisan politics. He added that Catholics should understand that the true significance of the bill is to build a stronger, more cohesive society.
Education Minister Laurel Broten told CBC Radio on Monday that the names of clubs do matter.
“To many of our students, we know that the term ‘gay-straight alliance’ has great meaning, and that words matter, and that if you can’t name something you can’t address it,” Broten said.
Opposition to the measure also came from a surprising source, the father of an Ottawa teen, Jamie Hubley, who committed suicide last October after being subject to intense homophobic bullying.
Allan Hubley, who said at the time of his son’s suicide that bullying was “definitely a factor,” testified for changes to Bill 13, arguing that his son might have been an even bigger target for bullying if he had formed a GSA:
“By suggesting each club must be specifically named, such as any name, we are dealing with the issue of bullying in a way that is sure to fail. Jamie was the only openly gay person in his school of over 1,000 students.
“Jamie had the love and support of his family and friends and still found this to be a challenge. A GSA with one member or even a few would only have made him more of a target. I have to ask you: How many people publicly announce their sexuality before they are out of school and established in their lives? Why, then, would we be considering forcing them to do so at an age when they already have so many pressures to manage?”
U.S. blogger Zach Ford disagreed with Hubley’s assessment, writing for Think Progress:
“Hubley’s rhetoric is both troubling and faulty. His testimony suggests that he discouraged Jamie from being open about his identity, as he is doing the same of other young people. It seems he does not even understand the basic point of a gay-straight alliance, nor is he aware of studies demonstrating what an impact they have on school environments,” Ford wrote.
“Hubley’s first concern about ‘forcing’ young people to publicly announce their sexuality doesn’t reflect the reality that they often choose to make that decision for themselves. Research has shown that coming out helps people who are gay feel happier — provided the costs of stigma do not cancel out the benefits.”
Participation in a GSA does not require “forced identification” in any way, Ford added, “as it is by definition a gay-straight alliance open to all students who believe in equality and acceptance. It’s a space to feel safe and welcome, not a spotlight on identities.”
The measure must still be signed by McGuinty before it becomes law.