Education Minister Nancy Allan sure sounds as though she intends to enforce Bill 18.
Specifically, she’ll enforce the provision that if students come forward wishing to form a gay-straight alliance in their school, they will be able to do so.
That’s what Allan told my colleague, legislative reporter Larry Kusch, yesterday. Just the fact alone that for the first time in ages it was Allan speaking, and not the deputy minister being offered for interviews or the ubiquitous aide to the minister issuing a statement, carries a lot of clout.
This isn’t going to be an issue in Winnipeg School Division and Louis Riel SD, with their strong and groundbreaking policies on issues involving sexual orientation and gender identity, and it won’t be a problem in many school divisions.
But as University of Winnipeg Prof. Katherine Taylor has found in her national studies on homophobia in schools, our schools are still not safe places for many of Manitoba’s children — despite the efforts of the vast majority of students and teachers. Homophobia is pretty much the last battleground on which some people believe they can defend the indefensible.
It looks as though Allan is up for it, and good on her.
No one who’s ever read anything I’ve written should be surprised on my position on sexual orientation and gender identity: gays and lesbians are normal human beings, period, full stop, end of story.
I can’t tell you why we didn’t know about the meeting Sunday night at Steinbach Christian High School that drew 1,200 people to protest Bill 18. TV knew about it, but I didn’t, and I’m supposed to know what’s happening in education.
This is a bigger potential issue than just faith-based private schools. There are public schools in highly religious centres where this will be a hot-button issue, and it may be hot enough to have some parents thinking about moving their kids out of public schools and into private schools.
Nevertheless, Allan and the Selinger government have made it clear that Bill 18 will apply in any school which accepts public funding — funded private schools receive per-student operating grants at half the rate of the school division in which they’re located.
No one is forcing any school to have a GSA. No student who does not wish to join a GSA will be compelled to do so. But every gay and straight student who wants to form a GSA will have the government at their backs.
I’m not going to get into how some people define religious freedom right now — a lot of people reaching for the comment button knew long ago that I share neither their beliefs nor some of their values — but I believe that gays and lesbians exist everywhere on this planet, and that in whatever community they live and go to school, they and their friends and supporters should be free to be open about who they are.
This one could get ugly, but it’s worth it. We owe it to all the children in this province.