Why Ontario needs Bill 13

22 May

I just came back from presenting to Ontario’s Standing Committee on Social Policy, showing my support for Bill 13: The Accepting Schools Act. I knew little about this bill until a couple of weeks ago, when I started following Andrea Houston‘s live-tweets from the Toronto committee hearings. The extent of the homophobic (and frankly nonsensical) vitriol that was directed at queer youth during the hearings shocked me and motivated me to action. I recommend that you check out Xtra’s excellent and extensive coverage of the Toronto hearings, for more background. Pasted below is what I said to the committee today. I was proud to be accompanied by a representative from Camp Ten Oaks (and her adorable 6-month old baby!). As I prepare for parenthood, my activism is taking on a new dimension. Suddenly the issue of safety in schools is of paramount importance.


Good afternoon,

My name is Ariel. I am a concerned citizen of Ontario, a long-time LGBT activist and a soon-to-be-parent. My wife Caitlyn is here in the audience with me today. We are expecting our first baby in approximately five weeks.

I felt compelled to come forward and speak in favour of Bill 13, after reading about some of the truly vile and homophobic rhetoric that was expressed at the previous meetings of this committee in Toronto. I want to state clearly and unequivocally that I believe that legislation of this nature is urgently needed in Ontario schools. I don’t want to have to make a presentation of this nature in 14 years when our own daughter enters high school.

You have already heard from established organizations including the Ontario GSA Coalition and Egale Canada that provided a detailed clause-by-clause analysis of Bills 13 and 14. I will not repeat the same arguments, but I will say that I support their analysis. It’s my understanding that Bill 13 contains a few problematic gaps in language, including the exclusion of the terms gender identity, gender expression and a lack of recognition of the problems associated with biphobia and transphobia. It also doesn’t explicitly state that students should be specifically permitted to name their groups Gay Straight Alliances or any other title of their choosing. This is an omission that needs to be corrected.

In addition to some of the flaws in Bill 13, Bill 14 has been specifically designed to exclude any mention of LGBT youth and the specific nature of the bullying that they face in schools. I would encourage you to take Egale and the Ontario GSA Coalition’s wise and well-studied criticism seriously, in an effort to make anti-bullying legislation as strong and effective as possible.

That being said, I am here to tell you why I support Bill 13 and want to see it implemented without delay.

1. LGBT youth are targets of bullying and they need protection.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans youth – or those perceived to be – are targets for bullying and at risk of depression and suicide. There have been quite a few high-profile suicide cases in recent years including the recent tragic death here in Ottawa of Jamie Hubley. When I attended the vigil following his suicide, I pledged to do everything I could do at a personal level to support queer youth in high schools. Even one death is too many. Again, I would reference the presentation made by Egale and the Ontario GSA Coalition for more detailed data on the bullying that queer youth face on the streets and in schools. Despite attempts by fundamentalist groups to gloss over the specific torment that LGBT youth experience every day – there is clear evidence that our youth need to be supported and protected by the educational system.

2. Queer youth are demanding the right to form GSAs – and we need to listen to them.

The strongest and most convincing advocates for GSAs (or similar support networks) continue to be queer youth themselves. Andrea Houston has spent the last couple of years documenting in Xtra the relentless and brave fight by queer youth in Catholic schools to have their rights respected. In one case, students were banned from displaying rainbows in their Catholic high school and instead they subversively baked them into cupcakes. They have done everything in their power to advocate for themselves and now it’s time for us to advocate with them and for them.

To my knowledge, the name “gay straight alliance” seems to be the only club title that school trustees and religious leaders are seeking to ban or change. As the Ontario GSA Coalition has pointed out, clearly it’s not the words “straight” or “alliance” to which religious leaders object. The right to name ourselves is a crucial part of our liberation and struggle for human rights. High school students should be able to name their clubs whatever they deem to be appropriate. They should not have to adopt a generic “respecting differences” name as mandated by the Catholic board. By erasing the name of their groups and attempting to neutralize their right to self-identify, Catholic trustees are telling LGBT youth to erase their identities. We cannot sit by and allow this to happen.

3. LGBT rights only exist on paper if our youth cannot exercise their rights in schools.

The LGBT community ha s fought for more than 40 years to achieve legal equality and we are almost there. The legalization of equal marriage across Canada in 2006 was a crucial victory after decades of street protests and court battles. And just this month, the province of Ontario gained all-party support to add human rights protection for trans people to the Ontario Human Rights Act. I applaud you for that.

But the reality is that these legal rights have no effect on the lives of vulnerable teenagers if young people are not permitted to exercise their rights at school – if they are told that their identities are dangerous and that adults don’t support them. That’s why legislation of this nature is so crucially needed.

4. Sometimes children need protection from adults.

I followed the last three meetings of this committee with great interest, both in the mainstream media and on Twitter. While I was impressed at how articulate and passionate LGBT youth were in advocating for their rights, it was the adults whose behaviour appalled me. One person who presented to this committee referred to homosexuality as a “toxic delusion.” Another trotted out the false and unsubstantiated notion that homosexuals have a higher likelihood of committing murder. Yet another suggested that the best that queer youth could hope for is tolerance, because “acceptance is unacceptable.” And to top it off, Catholic school trustees have confirmed that they will never allow students to use the term “Gay Straight Alliance.”

If this doesn’t make the argument in favour of implementing this legislation, I don’t know what else does. Clearly, LGBT youth need protection from the adults who would shame them or wish them harm. Ensuring their safety and the quality of their learning environment should be our primary and paramount concern. If anything, the reaction from some parents and religious leaders underscores why this law is so important. There is nothing criminal or immoral about young people’s need to get together with each other, share resources and plan social events. If anything, the fear that this bill provokes is proof of its necessity.

These hearings have been dominated by people claiming to represent organized religion, when in fact there are many people of faith who are entirely accepting of LGBT people. My uncle and two of my cousins are rabbis. They happily attended my wedding and continue to fight for queer and trans rights.

As a citizen of this province, I am appalled that publicly funded schools continue to act with impunity against queer youth. If Bill 13 lands the province in court with the Catholic school board, so be it. I urge you to be brave and stand up for LGBT youth who both need and deserve protection under the law. I sincerely hope that when my daughter starts high school, this struggle will be long behind us.

Thank you.

3 Responses to “Why Ontario needs Bill 13”

  1. Julien May 22, 2012 at 9:26 pm #

    I was there today and saw your talk. Thank you for speaking, it was refreshing in a deliberation that was stacked by religious fundamentalists. I too had no interest in speaking until I saw what kind of dialog was taking place, and by then, it was too late.

  2. Laurie May 23, 2012 at 8:46 am #

    thank you. the fact that we need to do this puts me into tear-filled rage. all our xmas donations this year went to EGALE. over the last few years, this issue has become intensely personal for me. i am so proud of my talented, beautiful, brilliant queer son and i cannot understand how anyone would want him to be anything other than himself, thanks for speaking up for all of us.

  3. Lesley May 23, 2012 at 10:45 am #

    I am at a loss for words, but not for tears, after reading your remarks. “Be brave” are the words all of us should hear when faced with such hatred, and those words should be followed by action. Thank you for being brave and taking action. Your daughter will be very proud of you.

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