This week in Ontario, Bill 13 (the Accepting Schools Act) passed. This Bill addresses bullying and includes clear reference to homophobia, biphobia and transphobia as types of bullying. Hooray! Naming is powerful in fighting oppression.
One of the aspects of the Bill that has received much attention is that Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAs) will be able to be named as such in schools. As you may have read/heard about, this caused no shortage of debate and disagreement among some school boards, educators and religious leaders.
The bottom line is this: when we name something, we can address it.
A GSA is a club which, by design, helps to address homophobia, biphobia, transphobia (the fear and hatred of LGBTQ people, which can manifest as verbal and physical harassment – bullying – exclusion and physical harm including death) as well as heterosexism (the assumption that everyone is heterosexual and that it is the only “normal” sexual orientation), and cis-normativity (the assumption that everyone is cisgender, and that maleness and femaleness is a binary). And the name suggests the mandate. It is a club where queer students and their allies can talk, strategize about how to make their schools safer, and support each other in these endeavours (as well as when incidents of the above occur). They are a safe space in a possibly otherwise hostile environment (in some cases) and a focal point for change even in accepting environments.
While a social justice club can, technically, do the same thing, if we can’t use the word “gay” in the club name, I wonder about the efficacy of dealing with homo/bi/transphobia in that setting – of naming the issues and dealing with them.
Naming something creates the space for it to exist. It validates it. And it’s the first step in addressing a problem because without a name, what are we really talking about?
copyright 2012 Annemarie Shrouder
Author, speaker and facilitator on issues of diversity & inclusion.