Hundreds of Catholic and evangelical parents, led by several anti-gay religious leaders, decried Bill 13 and “homosexual sex clubs” on the steps to Queen’s Park March 29.
About 20 feet away, a small group of smiling, rainbow flag-waving people chanted and cheered, “Bullying is mean so vote 13.” The quickly organized counter-protest consisted mostly of students, who held up colourful handmade signs in support of Bill 13 and gay-straight alliances (GSA).
MPPs are currently debating two anti-bullying bills: the Liberals’ Accepting Schools Act (Bill 13) and the Conservatives’ Bill 14. Bill 13 would make it law that schools establish welcoming environments for queer youth and provide supports, such as GSAs, if requested by students. Second-reading debate for Bill 13 will likely continue in the first week of April.
Speakers and protesters at the anti-Bill 13 rally were unapologetic about their feelings toward lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans people. Several religious parents — some of whom were accompanied by small children, who also held “Stop Bill 13” signs — said they don’t want their children learning about homosexuality at all in the classroom.
Charles McVety, president of Canada Christian College, spoke to the crowd, many of whom held signs that referenced Biblical verses. He said Bill 13 “violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms by forcing radical lifestyles on religious families.”
“They are trying to teach that there are six genders. What kind of nonsense is that? I have a young daughter. She is a sweet girl. Don’t confuse her. Why are they trying to confuse our children?”
Casey Oraa, co-chair of Queer Ontario, was among those who called out some of the inaccuracies and misleading information perpetuated by some of the speakers. “McVety again refers to it as six gendered, not cisgendered,” he tweeted.
Another protester, Dan McCash, a member of Campaign Life Coalition, said Catholics are being bullied into allowing “homosexual sex clubs.” McCash believes a GSA is the same as a gay bathhouse. “I’m going by my past observations of these clubs, which are places where people meet and have their sexual encounters when they want to have them and meet people of a like mind,” he said.
Another speaker, who made a point of identifying himself as a Sikh, said, “Bill 13 will confuse children with lifestyles that are foreign or strange to us,” as tweeted by journalist Jonathan Goldsbie.
Across the parking lot, the counter-protesters sang songs and chants. Many supporters joined the students, including members of Pride Toronto, the Trans Lobby group, the One School System Network, the Green Party and the Ontario Federation of Labour.
A Halton Catholic District School Board trustee was also at Queen’s Park in support of Bill 13 and students fighting for GSAs. Paul Marai, an openly gay Catholic trustee, was thrust into the spotlight when the chair of the Halton Catholic board famously compared GSAs to Nazi groups (reported by Xtra in January 2011). Marai says he supports student-led GSAs and Bill 13. “These Catholic parents are the minority,” he says, pointing to the anti-gay protesters. “Most parents are very supportive.”
Throughout the afternoon, a few MPPs trickled out to greet the protesters. Liberal MPP Kathleen Wynne (Don Valley West) and NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo (Parkdale-High Park) spoke to the GSA students, and shook their hands.
Conservative MPP Rick Nicholls (Chatham-Kent-Essex) delivered some encouraging remarks to the anti-gay protesters. “You know, I — as a believer, I just want you to know that my real rulebook says that you hate the sin but you love the sinner . . . There are far-reaching repercussions if Bill 13 is passed because it’s just one agenda after another, after another.”
Meanwhile, inside Queen’s Park, MPPs debated and voted on Bill 14, Conservative MPP Elizabeth Witmer’s anti-bullying bill. Witmer, who represents Kitchener-Waterloo, held a press conference immediately before the rally.
One key distinction in Bill 14 is a stipulation for accountability by keeping statistics, she says. Witmer wants mandatory reporting of all bullying by principals to school boards. “Unless we know how many issues we have this year and compare it to next year, we’re not going to know if our efforts are making a difference,” she says.
But, students and experts say GSAs prevent bullying from happening in the first place. Unfortunately, GSAs remain prohibited in Ontario Catholic schools. The only Catholic school known to have an anti-bullying group is in Mississauga. To get it, founder Leanne Iskander was forced to adopt the Catholic-sounding name Open Arms.
When asked by Xtra if she supports GSAs, Witmer refused to answer the question. “You know what? Today I am focusing on Bill 14.”
DiNovo, a member of the United Church clergy, says Bill 14 fails to provide urgently needed supports specific to queer and trans students, those at greatest risk of bullying, depression and suicide. Earlier in the day, she had spoken in the legislature in support of Bill 13. To the anti-gay protesters she said, “I remind you that Jesus was very outspoken about how we should treat our neighbour, and he said we should love them . . . He never said anything about homosexuality. Check your scripture.”
On March 26, Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod said Bill 13 and Bill 14 will likely be merged during the committee phase. On previous occasions, Education Minister Laurel Broten has vowed that GSAs will be mandated in all schools when requested by students.
Below is a video report from the protests.