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Ontario PC MPP throws support behind GSAs

UPDATE: Tim Hudak emails Xtra to 'clarify' Lisa MacLeod's position

Progressive Conservative MPP Lisa MacLeod at Queen's Park. Credit: Andrea Houston

UPDATE: May 9 at 1:30pm – The office of the leader of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative party emailed Xtra to clarify MPP Lisa MacLeod’s position on gay-straight alliances (GSA).

Christine Bujold, press secretary for PC Leader Tim Hudak, said, “The following accurately describes MPP MacLeod’s position regarding the Ontario PC Party position on Bill 13/Bill 14: ‘I believe all publicly funded schools should have groups to support students. However, the Liberal bill that focuses exclusively on GSAs has proven to be divisive. I do not believe we should entrench GSAs in legislation. I never have. That is one of the reasons we oppose the Liberal bill and have moved forward with our own anti-bullying bill.'”

May 9 at 11am – The sponsor of Bill 14, the Progressive Conservative anti-bullying bill, says she has “no issue” with students forming gay-straight alliances (GSAs).

In saying this, PC MPP Lisa MacLeod has contradicted statements made by other members of her caucus.

“I personally don’t have a problem with students having clubs, and [for them to] call it whatever they want to call it, kids making that decision,” MacLeod told Xtra on May 8 at Queen’s Park. “If kids want to have a club, they should choose the name.”

MacLeod made the comment at the end of the second day of presentations at the standing committee for social policy. The committee is examining Bill 13, the Liberals’ Accepting Schools Act, and Bill 14, both of which will likely be merged before third reading. Bill 14 does not mandate support for queer students, whereas Bill 13 would make it law that schools establish welcoming environments for queer youth and provide supports, such as GSAs. 

For two straight days, religious groups and parents have argued strongly against GSAs, calling them “sex clubs” that promote a “radical sex education agenda.”

For more than a year, students in Catholic schools across Ontario have been asking to start GSAs, but they have been denied repeatedly. When asked whether Catholic schools should continue to be allowed to deny GSAs, MacLeod says she supports students.

“Far be it for me to tell [Catholic schools] what to do, because they are protected under the constitution. That’s also important,” she adds. “I don’t think anyone wants to deny students the ability to go to groups. Jamie Hubley wanted to start a Rainbow club. Kids should be able to have clubs, and I personally think they should choose the name themselves.”

For NDP MPP Peter Tabuns, who also sits on the committee, MacLeod’s comments were unexpected. “I’m surprised and pleased.”

Many PC MPPs have spoken out strongly against GSAs, and just last week, a Liberal MPP told Xtra that PC whip John Yakabuski yelled, “No to GSAs” in the legislature after Bill 13 passed second reading. MacLeod then joined her caucus to vote unanimously against Bill 13.

At the anti-GSA rally held at Queen’s Park in March, PC MPP Rick Nicholls told protesters that he is “a believer” who thinks people should “hate the sin, but love the sinner.” He also says he strongly supports Bill 14, not Bill 13. “There are far-reaching repercussions if Bill 13 is passed because it’s just one agenda after another after another,” Nicholls said. 

Tabuns wouldn’t speculate as to whether MacLeod’s comments could affect the outcome of the legislation.

“There is certainly a lot more to Bill 13 than that one section on GSAs, although that has been the most contentious,” he says. “There are some people [within the PC party] who are vehemently opposed to GSAs.”

MacLeod, who distanced herself from many of the statements made by religious speakers, says public hearings often shape legislation, and changes may be made by MPPs based on presentations. “People have been coming and sharing their views. I grew up in the Maritimes, so I was taught very early on that you respect, but not necessarily accept, other people’s views.”

During the first day of presentations, about 20 religious groups and parents told the committee that Bill 13 will “promote the gay lifestyle” and called GSAs a “radical sex education curriculum.”

Tabuns, who has been challenging presenters with questions, says he is growing increasingly concerned with the misinformation and complete lack of understanding of Bill 13, most glaringly where GSAs are concerned.

Those opposed to Bill 13, some of whom admit they haven’t read the legislation, seem to be under the mistaken impression that GSAs will be forced on students.

At one point during committee, evangelical Christian presenter Iris Jones wept and likened Bill 13 to the Holocaust. Another presenter, Lynn Jackson, from the Network of Families’ Concern, called the legislation “the new residential school policy.” Judy Nuttall, from Citizens Addressing Sexual Exploitation, said children would be exposed to pornography if the bill is passed.

Linda Beaudoin, a sexual abuse survivor, told the committee, “Sex clubs should not be in schools.”

Ulma Lee, from the Rose of Sharon Mission, held up the “Don’t Confuse Me” ads from the Institute for Canadian Values that appeared in the National Post and Toronto Sun during the Ontario election campaign in the fall. At the time queer activists and education advocates called the ads transphobic and misleading.

“It can be emotionally very difficult,” Tabuns says. “I think a number of us have been really shocked at the misunderstanding at these meetings [about] what’s really going on. That’s one of the reasons we have been asking people, ‘Where in the bill do you find these things about sex?’ There must be a lot of people out there spreading a lot of misinformation.”
 
Committee hearings continue at Queen’s Park May 14 and 15, then in Ottawa on May 24. For those interested in reading Bill 13, the legislation can be found here. 

On Saturday, May 12, members of the Ontario GSA Coalition are planning a 1pm rally at Queen’s Park to show support for Bill 13.