There is a major piece of anti-bullying legislation which will soon be up for a vote in Ontario, Canada. In the legislation, kids in Ontario Catholic schools will be protected from repeated aggressive behavior that
occurs in a context where there is a real or perceived power imbalance between the pupil and the individual based on factors such as size, strength, age, intelligence, peer group power, economic status, social status, religion, ethnic origin, sexual orientation, family circumstances, gender, gender identity, gender expression, race, disability or the receipt of special education; (“intimidation”)
So this legislation is not by any means only protecting gay kids. It rightly seeks to protect kids who are targeted on for a wide range of possible reasons. But the legislation also specifically protects the rights of interested students to start Gay-Straight Alliances and guess who wants to argue that this provision should not pass because it gives special considerations to gays?
George Waye gives the surprise answer and explains why their complaints should be dismissed:
Ontario has a Constitutionally protected publicly funded Catholic school board. This protection is, funny enough, the result of an agreement at the time of Confederation that was designed to acknowledge the privilege of being a Protestant in the province and to give some bit of cultural real estate to a marginalized group. It was enshrined in Section 93 of the British North America Act in 1867- it was protected by section 29 of the Charter in 1982. Since 1867, of course, the naturally privileged Protestant schools in Ontario have all disappeared in favor of secular education while the Constitutionally protected Catholic minority has been allowed to keep their schools religious focus. Now, the minority that has benefited so greatly by laws designed to level the privilege playing field is shouting at the top of their lungs to avoid giving another minority protection under the law. “This is not something that needs to be protected under the law”, they say. “There is no good that will come from laws focusing on protecting one minority more than all the other disadvantaged groups”, they argue.
Perhaps they are right. There is reason to believe that well-intentioned laws have unintended negative consequences- we have precedent. One need look no further than the protections we afforded to the Catholic church regarding denominational education back in 1867.
The problem with this argument, of course, is that Bill 13 doesn’t focus solely on LGBTTIQ bullying. It points to them by name- as a group that has struggled most with acceptance within the school system. Bill 13 addresses a problem unique to this group when looking to organize extra-curricular groups sanctioned by the school board. It does these things, for sure, yet it still addresses the power of privilege and the roadmap to making headway in the fight against bullying. Why does it focus on LGBTTIQ rights when so many other underprivileged groups also suffer at the hands of bullies? Because the rot of ignorance and ambivalence extends beyond the hormone-swelled students and into the faculty and administration. It is necessary to spell this out for even the adults in the system.
I made similar arguments to George’s last month when a commenter named alexmartin attacked Dan Savage over his criticisms of the Bible and complained about the national focus on protecting bullied gay kids. alexmartin had written:
So, Daniel Fincke,
As stupid as I sound… are we still discussing “bullying” of schoolkids?
Remember?– protecting all children of whatever social, economic, mental, racial, or physical persuasion from schoolyard “bullying”, or has the topic been indefensibly highjacked by a single, narrow interest group?
Is that this presidents’ and federal and state legislatures’ sole interest regarding mitigating “bullying” in school?
Dan Savage has a point to make. Fine.
He is a sex columnist. He can hawk his wares elsewhere. If he wants to protect kids from “bullying”– not just the “gay” kids– then be expansive enough and benevolent enough to pretend that he cares about ALL kids, all forms of disenfranchisement, don’t come into a public school smearing the Santorum of his righteous hatred upon every mothers’ child, tone it down, and act like he’s talking to public school kids in a public school.
My reply was as follows:
The disproportionate emphasis on bullying of gay kids is due to the far higher suicide and homelessness rates of gay kids as opposed to other kids. Gay kids not only suffer bullying at school but quite often cannot take solace at home either where their parents, their religious authorities and random belligerent assholes like you degrade them and try to closet them.
But the anti-bullying campaigns in the country are wider in scope. The novelty of cyber-bullying was another impetus for this to become a national concern. Finally other kinds of kids will have their bullying addressed (hopefully) because gay activists stood up for gay kids and raised consciousness of the issue as a whole. Sorry if this also means that gay kids are going to now be protected from bullies with some special focus–as though they matter as human beings or something, or need any kind of special attention given the peculiarity of their vulnerability in the culture. I know it just burns you up that any one might give the slightest extra benefit to a gay person. You must cry yourself to sleep with rage over how much this ruins your life.
How exactly it ruins your life, I have no idea.
I have also written on some of the complexities of the issue of religious beliefs and anti-bullying protections for gays in the post Bullying or Debating? Religious Privilege or Freedom of Speech? The comments section to that post also feature a lot of insightful remarks, particularly from James Croft.
Also, on the topic of the importance of gay-straight alliances, here is my interview from the spring of 2011 with the founder of the first gay-straight alliance at my extremely religiously conservative alma mater, Grove City College. While the administration of Grove City permits the group to meet, they refuse to acknowledge the group as affiliated with the college.