NDP MPP for Danforth-Greenwood Peter Tabuns

What’s in a name? Bill 13 looks at GSA title

  • March 29, 2012

The NDP wants to grant Ontario Catholic high school students the right to name their anti-bullying clubs a Gay Straight Alliance.

The province’s anti-bullying legislation, Bill 13, received second reading at Queen’s Park on March 26. Before the debate, the NDP education critic said his party wants to resolve the controversy over whether Catholic schools can call their clubs Gay Straight Alliances by letting students decide.

“What we’re considering as an amendment is giving students determination over the name of the committee that takes that up,” said NDP MPP for Danforth-Greenwood Peter Tabuns.

The Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association opposes referring to anti-bullying clubs as gay-straight alliances. A group of Catholic students, some from as far away as Peterborough, came to Queen’s Park March 20 to ask for the right to name their clubs.

While there are students who want to publicly declare their sexual orientation, the name of the clubs should not be the focus of debate, Catholic School Chaplains of Ontario president David McNorgan told The Register.

“The naming of the club is not crucial,” he said. “It is true that students want to be able to identify themselves as lesbian or gay or bisexual or transgendered. If they are sort of hogtied in not being able to identify themselves, they feel that is oppressive for them.”

Other students, however, would shy away from declaring their orientation, said McNorgan.

“The important thing is for them to have a safe space where they can come and talk about who they are and the struggles they’re facing.”

In many schools it will fall on chaplaincy team leaders to actually moderate anti-bullying clubs. Parents and politicians should be confident school chaplains know what they’re doing, said McNorgan.

“We’re certainly equipped on a pastoral care basis and on a counselling basis,” he said. “Always, whether it be a crisis intervention or if somebody needs long-term counselling, we’re the first to direct to professional services. We’re well equipped that way.”

Tabuns doesn’t see the legislation as an unreasonable imposition on Catholic schools.

“There will be different rights that will be in competition with others,” he said. “We’re going to have to sort that out in the course of hearings and the debate.”

In his 22 years working in high schools, McNorgan has seen bullying of all kinds increase.

“I think everybody is going to be able to live without calling them GSAs,” McNorgan said. “I don’t deny the kids’ objections. But as far as practical pastoral care for our kids, we’re going to be able to do it under different banners.”

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