At Saturday's rally, high school GSA founders took their message of support and solidarity to Queen's Park.
“I want to say to the religious right: ‘You’re not right. You’re the religious wrong.’”
This declaration, made by human rights lawyer and Salaam Canada co-founder El-Farouk Khaki to the crowd of more than 150 that descended onto Queen’s Park for Saturday’s rally in support of the Liberals’ tabled anti-bullying bill, was met with rousing applause. Bill 13, the Accepting Schools Act, would guarantee students the right to form Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) across the province. The rally, dubbed “GSA? OK!—An Ontario GSA Coalition Rally,” was held in this spirit.
While representatives of the labour movement, human rights initiatives, religious organizations, and the political sphere were all present to voice their support for the legislation that would protect GSAs in Ontario’s schools, the speakers whose message resonated the loudest were three high school students who shared their experiences of forming GSAs in Toronto-area high schools.
“I don’t just want [Bill 13] to pass; I need it to pass,” said Christopher McKerracher, a student at St. Joseph Secondary School in Mississauga who, along with schoolmate Leanne Iskander, has been at the centre of a high-profile struggle to keep his school’s GSA afloat against resistance from the Toronto Catholic District School Board.
“I need it to pass because I’m so sick of hearing about the bullying that LGBTQ youth face, all the harm that happens to them, and all the senseless deaths,” said McKerracher. “This is why I believe in GSAs, and this is why I believe in Bill 13.”
Taechun Menns, also a student from St. Joseph Secondary School, concurred. “This fighting for having a Gay Straight Alliance in a Catholic school is in no way a religious issue. It’s a human rights issue.”
A need, and desire, for the allowance of GSAs extends beyond the Catholic school system. Matthew Bawcutt, a student at Birchmount Park Collegiate Institute, started a GSA at his high school after being approached by a number of his peers for counsel on concerns about orientation and acceptance.
“I have had multiple people—gay, bisexual, lesbian, and, yes, straight—come up to me and say, ‘The GSA has helped me and the GSA has saved me,’” said Bawcutt. “GSAs are a key component in making schools a safer place, which is why we need Bill 13 to be passed immediately: to make all the schools a safer place.”