When Ottawa teen Jamie Hubley committed suicide last October, Canada was rocked with the issue of anti-gay bullying. The fallout led to Bill 13, the Accepting Schools Act, which would require all taxpayer-funded schools to institute staff trainings, bullying reporting structures, and a guarantee that students can form gay-straight alliances or similar diversity-oriented clubs. Religious conservatives are attacking the bill fiercely because it would impact Canada’s Catholic schools as well, which they see as a violation of religious freedom.
But now those conservatives believe they have found an advocate in Jamie’s father, Allan Hubley. Hubley testified for changes to Bill 13, arguing that Jamie would have been an even bigger target for bullying if he had formed a GSA:
HUBLEY: By suggesting each club must be specifically named, such as any name, we are dealing with the issue of bullying in a way that is sure to fail. Jamie was the only openly gay person in his school of over 1,000 students. Jamie had the love and support of his family and friends and still found this to be a challenge. A GSA with one member or even a few would only have made him more of a target. I have to ask you: How many people publicly announce their sexuality before they are out of school and established in their lives? Why, then, would we be considering forcing them to do so at an age when they already have so many pressures to manage?[…]
Many of the kids I mentioned there, for example, people with freckles, with different colour hair, things like that, they’re not protected under the human rights charter. They’re not, as the previous presenter said, one of the minorities. From what I read of studies of bullies, they look for what makes you separate from others. They look for something that—you’re different. It could be the clothes you wear; it could be anything.
Hubley’s rhetoric is both troubling and faulty. His testimony suggests that he discouraged Jamie from being open about his identity, as he is doing the same of other young people. It seems he does not even understand the basic point of a gay-straight alliance, nor is he aware of studies demonstrating what an impact they have on school environments.
Hubley’s first concern about “forcing” young people to publicly announce their sexuality doesn’t reflect the reality that they often choose to make that decision for themselves. Research has shown that coming out helps people who are gay feel happier — provided the costs of stigma do not cancel out the benefits. Participation in a GSA should never require forced identification in any way, as it is by definition a gay-straight alliance open to all students who believe in equality and acceptance. It’s a space to feel safe and welcome, not a spotlight on identities.
GSAs also help mitigate students’ depression and even improve their performance later on in college. The mere perception that a GSA promoted school safety helped lower rates of depression and problems with substance abuse. Making school curricula LGBT-inclusive similarly helped make schools safer and more accepting.
Conservatives may take advantage of the fact that Hubley’s impression of what impacted his son’s decision to commit suicide, but that doesn’t change the reality of what actually improves school climates for LGBT students.