June 15, 2001
The Honourable Janet Ecker, Minister for Education
Mowat Block, 22nd floor
900 Bay Street
Toronto Ont M7A 1L2
Dear Minister Ecker,
We have been following the debate about the tax credit for private-school education in Ontario and are writing to you to express some concern.
Our anxiety is based on the experiences of lesbian, gay, and bisexual students and staff in the Ontario’s schools.
As I’m sure you already know, those teens who have already started to think they might be gay, or know that they are, have a very bad time in our education system. They have been assessed in various studies as being the teen group at highest risk of suicide. In March 2000 in BC, Hamed Nastoh, a 14-year-old, grade-9 schoolboy in the Surrey schoolboard, killed himself by jumping off a bridge, leaving a note saying that his death was caused by the homophobic bullying he faced at school.
Since unfortunately teens cannot rely on their parents being at all welcoming of the questioning or declaration of their sexual direction, a larger onus falls on the school.
The Toronto schoolboard’s efforts at equity for lesbians, gays, and bisexuals were begun in response to the death of gay teacher Ken Zeller, who was beaten to death by five teenage pupils.
And I think I have to underscore at this point, that we have a great responsibility to those living outside Toronto, especially those in smaller towns and in rural areas where resources who are of a friendly disposition towards lesbians, gays, and bisexuals are much harder – and in some places impossible – to find.
If private schools are to be supported through the tax system, they must be publicly accountable in the same way that public schools are. This goes beyond ensuring that private schools teach the common, provincially approved curriculum. It means they must also ensure that they maintain all of the standards and follow all the requisite policies determined by the Ministry of Education to which public schools are subject.
Most particularly, private schools must be required to uphold and promote both the objectives and the specific provisions of the Ontario Human Rights Code to ensure they promote tolerance and inclusiveness for students, teachers, and other staff, and in respect of the broader community of Ontario.
I need hardly point out that, in addition to being students and staff in Ontario’s schools, we are the lesbian mothers, gay fathers, and bisexual parents of children who should not be taught to hate their parents. We are the straight parents of children growing up to be gay. We are the partners and family of school staff whose daily life can be made unendurable. We are the totally unrelated lesbian, gay, and bisexual taxpayers and voting citizens of Ontario who do not want to see our money used to promote hatred towards us among upcoming generations. Heterosexual family and friends of lesbians, gays, and bisexuals do not want to see their money used for schools to promote hatred of their gay friends and relatives.
Nearly half the private schools in Ontario are religion-based, and many of the religious schools (evangelical Christian and fundamentalist Muslim schools in particular), as we know, are deeply homophobic. They often promote religious teachings and values that are sexist and/or intolerant towards other religions and cultures. They actively promote discrimination and bigotry, especially towards women and gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. Some religious groups are known to actively attempt to “cure” gays, lesbians, and bisexuals. Some have characterized us as “evil” and “satanic”.
We understand that private schools of a religious nature would be exempt from the provisions of the Ontario Human Rights Code (under §18). Nonetheless, the province has a duty to its lesbian, gay, and bisexual taxpayers and citizens and to the spirit of the Code to provide what human-rights protection it can to disadvantaged groups. The province must not put itself into a position where, in order to protect its human-rights reputation in one direction, it diminishes its human-rights protection in another. There is a clear line to be drawn between a religious belief as to the value of an action and the acceptability of an identity. Even where an identity is frowned upon, there is a clear line to be drawn between religious dogma and the acting out of prejudice and hatred. Schools found to countenance or promote these views should not receive tax benefits or should have their eligibility for tax credits removed.
We appreciate that various religions and denominations feel they are disadvantaged in comparison with the Catholic school system, but we cannot support making gay lives the price of their equality. So if the tax-credit system goes through, it is vital that explicit controls be put in place: both provincially mandated requirements and systematic regular monitoring.
Nor can this be constructed after the fashion of the Ontario Human Rights Code, where complaining is the responsibility of the victim. Teens are often unaware of their rights and unable to navigate their way through complicated complaints procedures. In particular, if they do not have family support, their situation may deteriorate markedly by making a complaint public.
It seems to us on balance preferable that funding not be extended to private schools, since they are more difficult to assess and control than those in the public sector which, in turn, will tend to be undermined by increased support for private schooling. But if private schools are to be supported, stringent controls must be put in place in order not to replace one set of human rights violations (unequal treatment of religion) by another (increased prejudice against women and lesbians, gays, and bisexuals).