Prodded by years of lesbian/gay rights agitation, Ontario New Democrats compelled the provincial Liberal Party to stand up and defy theocracy. The parties passed the Accepting Schools Act in June, mandating that all Ontario schools allow Gay-Straight Alliance clubs to be formed in publicly funded Catholic Separate schools.
In Mississauga (west of Toronto), Catholic high school student Leanne Iskander sparked the controversy when she attempted to form a GSA club in her school, but was met with disapproval from her school administration.
In 2011 the Ontario Liberal minority government introduced an anti-bullying bill aimed at making schools safer. There was only one problem: making LGBT students safer in schools meant allowing them to form their own support groups, which Catholic students weren’t being allowed to do.
Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty’s position on the clubs was vague at first. He appeared to be playing it safe. NDP leader Andrea Horwath, however, wouldn’t allow him to sidestep the issue. She stood up in the legislature at Queen’s Park and demanded an answer: “Nearly two thirds of LGBTQ students and their parents say that they feel unsafe in their schools. There have been at least three young people who have taken their own lives in the province of Ontario. It is heartbreaking, but it is also completely unacceptable. Can we finally put the politics aside and answer a simple question: Will students who want a GSA club in their schools be allowed to put one together and have one in their schools?”
After that, there was no hiding, and no ambiguity. McGuinty acceded to inclusivity. The stakes were high. Religious groups, even non-Catholics, launched a campaign of press conferences, rallies, and videos all aimed at maintaining their “religious freedom” to discriminate against LGBT youth on the taxpayers’ dime.
The Progressive Conservatives, taking a page from the social conservative ex-Reform Party core of the Conservative Party of Canada, made common cause with the theocrats.
But no matter how much the archaic religious hierarchy and their Conservative backers kicked and screamed, it was to no avail. The Accepting Schools Act passed the Ontario legislature with Liberal and New Democratic support on June 5, and will be school policy in time for September.
Another recent major queer rights victory is the passage of Toby’s Law, which amended the Ontario Human Rights Code to include the categories of gender identity and gender expression, the first such victory for transgendered rights in North America. Although all parties voted for it, the initiative of course came from the NDP—again the result of a long struggle by campaigners for transgendered rights and their supporters.
In a political setting where religious groups are trying to roll back reprodutive rights south of the border, Bill 13 and Toby’s Law are a testament to how much activists can challenge authority and make a change in Parliament, schools, and homes. From one student daring to form a club, to a last minute amendment to legislation, the struggle against injustice is advancing.
> The article above was written by Evan Engering, and is reprinted from the July 2012 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.