In an open letter sent June 29, Iskander and Oraa say that Ontario’s governing party refused to enforce PPM 145, an existing policy that says school boards across Ontario must support students who want to form GSAs. “Time and time again the Ministry and the governing Liberals refused to enforce this policy and repeatedly devolved responsibility down to the Boards,” the letter states.
The authors say also that Bill 13, brought forward by Broten and the Liberals, repackaged and broadened equity policies that were already in place. They write that while putting forward the new law, legislators resisted “specific language in Bill 13 that would clearly state the rights of LGBTQ youth to form support groups using names of their choosing.”
Iskander, 17, and fellow students have struggled for more than a year to create a gay-straight alliance group in their own Catholic school. “We were just surprised that she was given that title and they were honouring her,” Iskander says. “The government has always had the ability to do something about this. They didn’t until very recently, and they only added the amendment to give us the right to name our groups after a lot of pressure from the NDP.”
Kevin Beaulieu, the executive director of Pride Toronto, disagrees. “This was a very good year at Queen’s Park, with these two bills moving forward,” he says, referring to Bill 13, as well as Toby’s Act, brought forward by Broten’s fellow co-marshal, Cheri DiNovo. “It’s very important where they end up . . . If people do the right thing they should be recognized for it.”
Grand marshals are chosen by Pride Toronto's board of directors after considering community input and nominations, Beaulieu explains. He says the opportunity to honour Broten marks the queer community’s success around the GSA issue.
“[Leanne Iskander], our Dyke March honoured dyke last year, and the [Trans Lobby honoured] group last year were related to these issues, too. So there’s a development, there’s a progression, and this year, there was an outcome,” Beaulieu says. “We have something to celebrate . . . and we congratulate the grand marshals for their role in getting us here and helping out.”
Oraa is the vice-chair of Queer Ontario. “Given the history . . . of the battle for gay-straight alliances in Catholic schools, it’s a really weird choice,” he says, noting that the grand marshal is usually a time-tested ally or member of the queer community. “The role of the grand marshals, it’s to leverage activists and advocates who’ve contributed to our successes,” he says. “Have we run out of activists and advocates to honour?”
Iskander found the choice to honour Broten “upsetting,” she says. “I’d just like Pride to acknowledge that the Liberal government didn’t do what they should have, and they didn’t do it soon enough.”
Broten was unavailable for an interview, but she did offer a written statement. “Often students feel that politics has nothing to do with them. I am proud of the Accepting Schools Act because it is all about them. Accepting Schools is the result of listening to students and addressing the problems they identified in their own schools,” she wrote. “I am extremely proud of the Accepting Schools Act, something government is doing that does more than just say 'It gets better.' We are working together to make it better now.”
Broten added, “At one time the debate was whether or not support groups could exist in schools at all. These clubs are now enshrined in law and I’m proud to have been a part of that.”
A representative of Broten’s office added that the minister is “honoured” to have been named co-grand marshal and that she respects the work Iskander is doing and hopes to work with the activist again in the future.