A tall, lanky man wearing a red coat catches my attention as I weave between the solar panels and hybrid cars at Toronto’s Green Living Show. He’s engaged in a thoughtful-looking conversation with an older woman.
I find my eyes travelling to his company. A casually dressed woman flanks him, along with a man sporting a black warm-up jacket. The man in black stands slightly askew but is obviously still engaged in the goings-on of his companion. As the man in red finishes his conversation, the woman, (it’s now clear to me it’s his wife), slides away to peruse the vegetarian goodies on offer. I make my move.
“Premier McGuinty,” I say.
He swivels around.
“Hi, my name is Casey Oraa and I belong to a group called Queer Ontario.”
He smiles and nods.
“I just have to ask you, with the banning of GSAs in Halton and now Mississauga, is your government going to do anything to help out these youth?”
“You mean Catholic schools, right?”
“Yes, Catholic schools.”
“Well, I have a daughter who plays water polo,” he starts with a casual pat to my arm, “and she recently broke her arm.”
“So while it may look quiet above the surface,” he says as he illustrates being above the surface by positioning one hand horizontally over the other, “there’s a lot happening underneath,” moving the hand previously hovering over the surface below, into the depths.
McGuinty, in his roundabout way, has just told me that gears are turning at Queen’s Park on the question of gay-straight alliances in the province’s publicly funded Catholic school system. Queer Ontario has been lobbying his government — and especially Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky — for more than three months. The main thrust of our lobbying has been to get McGuinty, Dombrowsky and the ministry to enforce memorandum 145, a Liberal policy that requires schools to support students who wish to form GSAs.
“Can you give me a timeline?”
His gaze averts from mine ever so briefly, but then he’s back.
“You should be hearing something within the next two weeks.”
A genuine smile breaks through. “That’s fantastic. I mean, your policy is pretty clear and I’m glad you’ll be stepping up.”
He continues to smile and then thanks me for saying hello. We shake hands and part.
I hold no illusions. Experience has taught me to be consistently, cautiously optimistic. Even if McGuinty or the Ministry of Education do come out in support of GSAs in Catholic schools, it doesn’t stop there. There’s still work to be done. In addition to the ban on GSAs, there are the anti-gay Pastoral Guidelines and the board’s discriminatory hiring practices.
If McGuinty or the Ministry of Education announces their support for GSAs in Catholic schools, I will be the first one to thank them for finally deciding to take action. If not, the work continues — the letters, calls and emails with the ministry (which still has yet to reply to Queer Ontario’s January letter asking it to enforce PPM 145), the petitions, tweets, community meetings and, in general, reminders that we will not go away.
We will continue to make noise until they do the right thing — both by their own policy and for the betterment of the lives of queer and trans youth.
A polite vendor interrupts my thoughts by gently inserting a vegan granola bar into my field of vision. I take it with thanks and savour it wholly. I can only hope that Dalton’s support for the holistic extends beyond the Green Living Show and to our struggling queer and trans youth.
Casey Oraa is the political action chair for Queer Ontario.
Sign Queer Ontario’s petition calling on the Ministry of Education to enforce memorandum 145. Queer Ontario will be holding a community strategy meeting about gay-straight alliances April 28 at 6pm at the 519 Church Street Community Centre.