Don Hutchinson, vice-president and general legal counsel of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) is scheduled to appear before an Ontario legislature hearing on May 22 to argue that churches opposed to the proposed anti-bullying legislation, Bill 13, are not “homophobes.”
The EFC and other Canadian churches, including the Roman Catholic Church, have expressed concerns about Bill 13, saying it does not recognize religious freedom and will force religious schools to change fundamental church teachings on homosexuality. They are opposed, in particular, to a subsection of the bill that requires schools to support students who want to establish and lead “activities or organizations that promote the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, including organizations with the name gay-straight alliance or another name.”
The Ontario government introduced the bill last November, following the suicides of two young people, one of whom was targeted for his sexual orientation.
But while the Roman Catholic Church and other Catholic groups oppose the bill, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) has urged the legislature to pass Bill 13, also known as the Accepting Schools Act. The 76,000-strong Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) has also expressed support for most provisions of Bill 13.
“We call on all parties in the legislature to ensure that all of our students receive the supports they need to feel safe at school, by passing as soon as possible the provisions of Bill 13 that specifically protect LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans-identified and queer) students and, by extension, other marginalized students,” said the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association in a statement. OECTA represents 45,000 teachers in publicly funded English Catholic schools in Ontario. “OECTA has long proclaimed that all are created in the image of God regardless of age, race, creed, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, mental or physical ability,” the statement added.
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario says students should be given the right to use the terminology “gay-straight alliance” and to “specifically focus on homophobia, transphobia, and gender identity as these relate to their own development and understanding of others.”
The EFC and other churches have expressed support for another anti-bullying bill, Bill 14, which designates a “Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week” in schools and requires them to provide for bullying prevention curricula, policies and administrative accountability.
In a press statement, Hutchinson of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada said evangelicals do not have “a fear or irrational aversion towards gays and lesbians,” which, he added, is how the Oxford Dictionary defines “homophobia.”
Evangelicals and citizens with more conservative views “should be able to participate in the democratic process without being caricatured or ostracized,” he added.