On May 14, 2012, the Pan-Orthodox Association of Greater Hamilton and the Eastern Orthodox Clergy made a presentation before the Sanding Committee hearing on Bill 13. Father Geoffrey Korzg, Dean of Ontario for the Orthodox Church in America, and General Secretary of the Pan-Orthodox Association of Greater Hamilton made the presentation. With him were Father William Makarenko, former Chancellor of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada; and President of the Pan-Orthodox Association of Greater Hamilton; Father John Koulouras of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Toronto and President of the Eastern Orthodox Clergy Fellowship of Toronto; and Father Alexei Vassiouchkine, of Christ the Saviour Russian Orthodox Cathedral, in Toronto.
The Orthodox Clergy Associations represents Eastern Orthodox churches from around the Golden Horseshoe, with about one quarter million faithful, almost all of which live in urban ridings. Orthodox Christian communities across Ontario draw their members from a wide variety of cultural and linguistic groups, from Greece to Russia, North and Central Africa, the Middle East, Ukraine, Romania, and the Far East, as well as a wide variety of other cultures.
Fr. Korzg makes a very convincing, logical and moral argument against the passing of Bill13. Everyday for Life Canada, with permission, shares the entire speech with its readers. We hope you do read the whole talk to get a better understanding of why so many different religious and non-religious groups, as well as families, individuals and politicians believe that Bill 13 is misguided and would make for an unjust law. Here's the speech:
I believe the Members of the Committee would agree that it is widely accepted that bullying is a genuine problem for students in Ontario schools. In every study one can find, a majority of students – often a vast majority – report being victims of some type of bullying.
Yet the official data on the targets of bullying and violence paints a very different picture than the one we see in the preamble to Bill 13.
The preamble of the bill takes pains to outline each and every type of sexual self-identification that can be identified as a reason for being bullied. It does not elaborate in such a way, however, about particular racial or cultural groups, nor about particular faith groups who may suffer targeted bullying. The emphasis of the preamble to Bill 13 certainly seems to reflect a preoccupation with bullying based on sexual self-identity.
In contrast to the proposed bill, Statistics Canada in their 2011 Report on Hate Crimes, indicates that bullying against religious groups is more than twice as common as bullying against self-identified gays and lesbians.
Statisitcs Canada further reported that the largest increase was in attacks directed against people of traditional faiths, which increased 55 per cent over two years.
Racially-motivated bullying was reported to be even more frequent than all other types of attacks. In fact, in 2009, Statistics Canada reports that three Ontario cities – Ottawa,
Toronto, and Kitchener-Waterloo – accounted for most of the increase in incidents of such attacks across Canada.
We must ask, why then does Bill 13 make repeated, special mention of LGBT anti-bullying initiatives, when such incidents represent only a fraction of the reality of bullying in Ontario schools?
In our communities, one can already see the impact in schools of initiatives and attitudes which have taken their cue from the introduction of Bill 13.
- The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board anti-bullying resource documents denigrate the traditional Christian view of sexual morality as “homophobic”;
- In the same board, as part of the anti-bullying initiatives inspired by Bill 13, staff have already received talking points to counter parents who object based on their faith to LGBT-framed anti-bullying initiatives;
– The Toronto Catholic District School Board caved under pressure from its own staff to reject Roman Catholic teachings, and to adopt a number of anti-Catholic initiatives, in anticipation of the guidelines proposed under Bill 13.
Anyone who has walked through the halls of an Ontario secondary school over the last year has also seen the graphically pro-homosexualist posters being used in the name of combating bullying.
Yet it is just this kind of material – the kind that emphasizes again and again the sexualization of young people – which is our concern when it comes to the impact of Bill 13. We have already seen anti-bullying initiatives in local schools adopting strategies that have grown directly out of gay activism.
In schools from Niagara to Hamilton to Kitchener to Toronto, pink t-shirt days, “gay alliances”, and sticker and poster campaigns designating “gay friendly” classrooms are already underway, and Bill 13 enshrines them in law.
Where I live, we have even seen one local elementary school host a crossdressing day to oppose bullying against students who are confused about their gender. All these initiatives have the very clear side effect – perhaps intended - of putting a spotlight on those who do not subscribe to their agenda, and to undermine the teachings from home, church, mosque, synagogue or temple that might teach something different about how we understand sexual identity.
By adding section 303.1 (d) – the establishment of Gay-Straight Alliance clubs (GSAs) – the proposed Bill 13 rejects the traditional approach to human sexuality, marriage, and modesty around sexual issues that is held by virtually every traditional culture around the world.
It suggests that the views of one culture - a tiny, urban, liberal, white, elite subgroup of North American culture - are somehow entitled to trump the views and faith of almost every other faith and culture that make up our province.
In these short buy critical sections, Bill 13 reflects a very
myopic, elitist, western-centered view of the world, and seems to be ideologically committed to imposing its own narrow doctrines on virtually every other cultural and religious group outside its own small circle.
Further, and perhaps most importantly, the establishment of
Gay-Straight Alliance clubs is an important part of the strategy to shift the centre of influence for struggling students away from the guidance of families and faith groups, to the counsel of same-age teen peers.
What does such a step say to the family with traditional faith and beliefs regarding sexual lifestyles? Let me be clear: GSAs are not designed to combat bullying. They are designed to provide emotional support and affirmation for a variety of sexual lifestyles that contradict the path of virtually every traditional faith, including Orthodox Christianity.
As clergy, we must regularly deal with spiritual and personal counseling. As parents, it is truly frightening to us to imagine that our tax-funded schools would provide a forum in which the teachings of traditional faiths are undermined, and faith-based efforts to counsel our young faithful are contradicted in a public school by staff or guest speakers.
Just a few months ago in a secondary school in Dundas, Ontario, a woman who identified herself as a lesbian rabbi was brought in by school staff as a featured speaker at a school-wide anti-bullying assembly. Her purpose was not simply to speak out against bullying.
in general, or even to speak against the bullying of self-identified gay students: her message was to attack the Old Testament – the scripture sacred to Christians and Jews – as an outdated, absurd document, and to tell students not to accept the beliefs of anyone who would follow it.
Members of the committee: Bill 13 emboldens this kind of antireligious attack, and this is the reason that any anti-bullying bill anti-religious attack, and this is the reason that any anti-bullying bill passed by this Legislature must not include any emphasis on one group over another, lest these small references be used as a hammer against people of faith.
Our task as spiritual leaders is to guide our faithful into lives that fully reflect the millennia-old teachings of our faith. Why on earth would Members vote for a bill that would collide head-on with these efforts? Why would you undermine us?
As Orthodox Christians, most of our faithful come from places, which experienced anti-religious persecution, within living memory. I heard just the other day the story of a 94-year old Serbian Orthodox woman living in our community, who during the Second World War hid in a cave in a concentration camp in Yugoslavia, while fascist soldiers searched outside, waiting for their chance to force her to deny her Orthodox Christian faith –or die.
You see, her faith was a the problem for that government, just as it has been for Orthodox Christians living under the Ottoman Turks, or the Communists, or countless other regimes. As priests of the Orthodox Church, we beg Members: do not make our faith a target in Ontario’s public schools under Bill 13. Again, let me be clear: Orthodox Christians and others know how it feels to be targets. Any true and faithful Orthodox
Christian would be the person most willing to stand up to protect the physical and emotional safety of a self-identified gay student. This is simply Christian mercy - but it is not agreement. With the provisions of Bill 13 allowing our faith and the traditional faiths of other to be labeled “homophobic” and “bigoted”, Ontario schools would actually undermine the positive contribution to our school communities of people of traditional faith and values. How can this be a positive contribution to humanizing and civilizing our schools?
Most of the Orthodox Christian faithful in Ontario comes from immigrant families, many of whom do not speak English, and most of whom are unlikely to speak up about this issue. They are working families, who will not write letters, nor will they call their MPP or school trustee.
But one thing they will do - almost invariably - is vote.
Please ask yourselves:
What will you say to families of traditional faith who discover their 14-year-old has been part of a GSA for months, without parental approval?
What will you say to constituents who are concerned that Bill 13 and related regulations offer no exclusion for families who do not want their kids involved in GSA clubs, or from related curriculum in class?
What will you say to a voter whose child has rejected their faith and community, because something they learned in a school club dramatically shifted their sense of faith and values – against their family?
What will you say to faith leaders who must provide a variety of contrary worldviews in their local high school Christian club – but who would never be otherwise invited to share their story in a public high school, because this bill labels them “homophobic”?
Should Bill 13 pass with the inclusion of these inequitable sections favoring LGBT activism, Members will also be faced with the question of how they will answer these concerns at the doors, when they are circulated through the ethnic and religious media in the months ahead.
Let me urge the Members: whatever bill you pass, please ensure it makes no distinction between the type of victim, or the type of club that would support them. You have a good model in Bill 14, and I pray you will take this opportunity to unite Ontario students, not to divide them.