Education Minister Laurel Broten has announced an amendment to Bill 13 to make it mandatory that Catholic students be allowed to name their clubs gay-straight alliances if that is their wish. Register file photo

GSA reversal puts church and government on collision course

  • May 29, 2012

The Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty has pulled a dramatic about-face by breaking a pledge not to force Catholic schools to use the term gay-straight alliance for anti-bullying clubs.

Instead, Education Minister Laurel Broten has announced an amendment to Bill 13 to make it mandatory that Catholic students be allowed to name their clubs gay-straight alliances if that is their wish.

"Under our amendments (to Bill 13), no school board or principal can refuse to allow students to use the name "gay-straight alliance" to describe their clubs," Broten said in a letter released to Liberal supporters on May 25.

Broten said the amendment was made so that every student could feel safe and accepted at school. She had used much the same language when introducing Bill 13 late last year. At that time, Bill 13 proposed that students be allowed to deal with sexual orientation and gender issues by forming organizations "with the name gay-straight alliance or another name."

By now potentially forcing Catholic schools to use the term gay-straight alliance, Broten has put the government on a collision course with the Church.

Catholic schools are entirely supportive of initiatives to reduce bullying and, until yesterday, had been assured by the government that they would be allowed to do so in ways that respected Church teaching on homosexuality. In January, the Ontario Catholic Schools Trustees' Association released a document called Respecting Difference that outlined how Catholic schools would address anti-bullying for all students. That document was drafted after consultations with the government and all indications were that the government was onside with the Catholic approach to this difficult issue.

So yesterday's announcement by Broten will be widely regarded as a betrayal and a breach of trust.

Earlier in the week, the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario had made a submission to a government standing committee that was formed to meld the Liberal Bill 13 with the Conservative Bill 14. Both deal with anti-bullying but the Conservative bill does not give special emphasis to students bullied by what the Liberal bill calls homophobia. Instead, it addresses the issue of bullying uniformly.

In their submission, the bishops supported strong measures to reduce student bullying but called on the government to remove the special emphasis on "homophobia" and instead address bullying in a way that does not highlight one cause of bullying.

The bishops emphasized that Catholic schools "have their own highly developed ways of attaining the goal of creating a welcoming school" that are based on the principles of the Gospel. They said it is wrong to insist Catholic schools combat bullying with one "particular methodology that comes from a different perspective."

By adopting the Respecting Difference guidelines, Catholic schools would achieve the government anti-bullying objectives in ways that adhered to Catholic principles, said the bishops. The bishops also called on the government to respect that education is primarily the responsibility of the parents "and the government is to assist them."

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