Halton School Board Re-Bans Gay-Straight Alliances
The Halton Catholic School Board received a lot of flack this year over banning Gay-Straight Alliances—important peer support systems—in their school system. “We don’t have Nazi groups either,” a representative told the media back in January.
Gay-Straight Alliances are recommended by the Ontario Ministry of Education as a proven means of improving the life of gay youth, giving closeted teens visible role models and support, helping to eliminate homophobic bullying, and reducing instances of teen suicide.
The successes of GSAs made the Halton board’s GSA ban particularly difficult to justify. Faced with a lot of negative media attention over this and its “Nazi” remark, the Halton school board soon announced that they would be introducing a new policy.
Well, that new policy is here. On Wednesday, by a 6 - 3 vote, the school board has re-banned GSAs.
In lieu of GSAs, though, they’ve decided to set up SIDE spaces, a quickly conceived backronym that stands for Safety, Inclusivity, Diversity, and Equity. Essentially, SIDE spaces are support groups designated as safe for everyone, not just gay students.
Now, encouraging safety, inclusivity, diversity, and equity is very important, of course; all schools should do that. But let’s not lose sight of the issue here. SIDE spaces are a solution to a different problem. For a support group to be at all effective, it requires peers facing similar—if not identical—issues. Generic “everyone’s welcome!” support groups are not only an ill replacement for GSAs, they were created expressly to make a ban on GSAs more palatable by offering a substitute that ostensibly includes gay students without the visibility. Denying this visibility sends a message that GLBT students should stay hidden, and denies a place where GLBT students can discuss issues specific to them among peers who are guaranteed to be receptive.
So Boo on the Halton Catholic School Board for completely SIDE-stepping the issue.