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Queer Ontario Questions the Scope of Wednesday’s Anti-Bullying Bills

December 2nd, 2011 No comments

For Immediate Release

Queer Ontario Questions the Scope of Wednesday’s Anti-Bullying Bills
Calls for explicit protections and a more holistic approach to student bullying

TORONTO – Queer Ontario believes Ontario Education Minister Laurel Broten is moving in the right direction with the introduction of Bill 13 (the Accepting Schools Act), which will support students who want to establish activities or organizations that address the needs and experiences of persons of all sexual orientations and gender identities — like LGBTQ support groups [Accepting Schools Act Amendment 9]. While we appreciate the explicit mention of homophobia as a mentality that needs to be addressed in schools to prevent the bullying of students who are lesbian, gay, or bisexual; we are disappointed to find that heterosexism, cisgenderism, and transphobia are not mentioned whatsoever, and that gender identity and gender expression are inconsistently addressed throughout.

Similarly, when it comes to Bill 14 (the Anti-Bullying Bill) introduced by Progressive Conservative MPP Elizabeth Witmer on the same day, how can we be assured that the Anti-Bullying Act will duly address the bullying of LGBTQ students — or any marginalized student, for that matter — if it does not make any explicit mention of them? That is: how can we be assured that this legislation will be applied equally to all students without sidelining anyone for fear of the Government being accused of pandering to so-called “interest groups”?

It is also curious that it is taking a series of youth suicides due to bullying that the provincial government is only now addressing the issue of GSAs in Ontario high schools, despite existing PPM 145 that already permits them in all high schools throughout the province, which the Liberals refused to implement. In essence, Bill 13 curtails PPM 145 by permitting Catholic schools to name LGBTQ support groups with other names with less currency.

To address these issues, and to ensure the full and proper protection of marginalized LGBTQ students, we are calling on the Government of Ontario to do the following:

1. To develop a clear, comprehensive, and unequivocal definition of bullying, be it by the two parties who have introduced these Bills, or by Parliament as a whole.

2. To amend these Bills, in whatever form they ultimately take, to include explicit protections for transsexual, transgender, two-spirited, intersexed, and questioning students on the basis of transphobia and cisgenderism – a provision currently lacking from them.

3. To include compliance mechanisms in these Bills, in whatever form they ultimately take, to explicitly outline repercussions for School Administration, Boards, etc. that do not comply with the legislation. The compliance mechanisms must outline what the Ministry will do if School Administration, Boards, etc. fail to comply with the legislation and what specific actions the Ministry will take to ensure compliance.

4. To include a mechanism in these bills for youth to bypass School Administration, Boards, etc. if they are facing challenges with the formation of Gay-Straight Alliances or with school compliance with these Bills, in whatever form they ultimately take, such as teacher or staff bullying of students. This could take the form of an Ombudsman for Youth, Compliance Officer or a similar sort of position at the Ministry of Education that youth in Ontario schools can contact if they feel they are not properly being supported by their Administration or School Boards.

5. To include protections for teachers from bullying in the school environment as well as protections for teachers engaging in anti-bullying and/or equity and social justice work from harassment, oppression, marginalization or repercussions for performing such work.

6. To re-implement the new Physical and Health Curriculum, that included formal and explicit education about the problems behind the demeaning mentalities that fuelled bullying — like racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, cisgenderism, cissexism, fatphobia, and ableism.

7. To update the Humanities and Social Sciences curriculum to include an accurate and comprehensive portrayal of LGBTQ persons and their particular needs and experiences; as well as the history of the LGBTQ rights movement and the achievements of historic LGBTQ figures and their contributions to society. Representing the livelihoods and achievements of LGBTQ persons communicates the idea that LGBTQ persons are a very important part of society, and that we shouldn’t be unjustly oppressed or marginalized.

8. To include human rights protections of transsexual, transgender, two-sirited, intersexed, and genderqueer individuals via the inclusion of “gender identity” and “gender expression” as prohibited grounds for discrimination and violence in the Ontario Human Rights Code, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Criminal Code of Canada.

We have requested a meeting with Minister Broten, MPP Witmer and Peter Tabuns (MPP; Education Critic, NDP) to discuss how to move forward on these bills or what hopefully will evolve into an amended bill taking into account input from stakeholders. At press time we have not heard back from any of the ministers. It’s time Queen’s Park got serious about homophobic, heterosexist, transphobic and cisgenderist bullying in all Ontario schools. We hope sincerely that the parties can work together to formulate a bill that addresses the comprehensive needs of LGBTQ youth in Ontario schools.

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