In Ontario, the provincial government is working on legislation called Bill 13, the Accepting Schools Act. This is an amendment to the Education Act and has stirred up considerable controversy. The goal, from my understanding, is to create a positive school environment. Bill 13 would put into law definitions and consequences of bullying.
There is push back about the Bill and the greatest amount seems to be centred on the parts of the Bill that deal with bullying based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
Last week, Laurel Broten, the Minister of Education, issued a statement regarding the provisions in the Bill to ensure an environment where students could create single-issue groups like gay-straight alliances with the support of the school community. In her statement, Minister Broten said:
We know that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students too often feel unsafe at school. We know the power of words can create fear and pain, and spread hatred, homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, sexism and racism. And we know that if we can’t name it, we can’t address it.
The last statement is important because some controversy surrounds the part of the assertion that students should be allowed to name their group, including being known as a Gay-Straight Alliance.
One group opposing the Bill, the Campaign Life Coalition, has the following statement on their website: The proposed legislation contains [several other] components that attack freedom of religion, freedom of association and parental rights. This group believes that Bill 13 undermines their rights as parents to pass on their values and religious beliefs. Another assertion on their website is that this Bill bullies Christians. Jack Fonseca, of Campaign Life Catholics, made a statement recently stating that the word “homophobic” was an anti-Christian slur.
Really? I’m confused how the term “homophobic” is anti-Christian. It is a person specific term, not one that encompasses any one group. It is not anti- anything; it is a word used to define someone who is prejudiced against homosexual people (Merriam Webster).
Campaign Life Coalition is not just pushing back against the Bill, but any attempts by the government to allow discussion or recognition of issues in schools that relate to LGBT students. A strongly worded statement from the Campaign Life website shows their viewpoint that Bill 13, “pretends to be about anti-bullying, but in reality, is trying to sneak in a radical, sexualized agenda by legislating the Premier’s gay “equity” curriculum, thus giving it the force of law”.
I have read the Bill. Several times. I do not see where a “radical, sexualized agenda” is put forth. I also do not see where it says that people have to stop believing what they believe.
We could go around on this issue forever, but what is presently making me shake my head is this: how can someone say that they are opposed to a bill about bullying because it goes against your Christian beliefs? Do Christian beliefs not include tolerance and acceptance – the opposite of bullying?
A positive school environment does not include bullying. It does provide safe places for students to live and learn. It does include education and awareness about issues and differences. Tolerance. Acceptance.