A Canadian teenager has defended an anti-bullying bill which would protect his right to start a gay-straight alliance, in the face of harsh opposition from religious groups who say the bill is an “incremental attempt to destroy” them.
Evan Wiens, 16, says he is the only openly gay student in his school, and has faced homophobic bullying to the point where he was afraid to walk through the school corridors.
He is a supporter of Bill 18, which would require all schools in Manitoba to allow students to form gay-straight alliances, as well as clubs promoting equality between students of different genders, races, and abilities.
There have already been objections to the bill from religious groups. A meeting to oppose the bill in Steinbach, a town with a high Christian population, drew a crowd of 1,200 people out of its 13,500 residents.
Wiens, a resident of Steinbach and a student at Steinbach Regional Secondary, is trying to start a gay-straight alliance to support other LGBT students at the school who may have fears about coming out. His proposal was approved by his school, but administrators say the club will not be able to advertise, put up posters or make announcements.
In an interview with CBC News, during which other students pass by in the background and shout homophobic slurs at Wiens, he points out that there are posters around the school for groups such as “High School Worship Night”, as well as for hobby clubs.
“I find that the [school] administration is a bit more intolerant in that sense, because they need to worry about community values,” he said.
According to The Globe and Mail, Wiens was originally put off supporting Bill 18 by the opposition of faith groups, who claim the bill prioritises LGBT children over straight, religious ones.
Ray Duerksen, a pastor in Steinbach, said of Bill 18: “It’s going to be the beginning of an incremental attempt to destroy the Christian church. That’s what’s taking place. That’s the agenda behind the scene.”
Wiens responded: “[Religious students] should not have to feel ashamed, and they should not have to feel like they have to hide themselves.
“But then I thought about it, and I thought if a church is allowed to vocally oppose a bill, what’s so bad about me standing up for my rights? They already have all the freedoms. I’m just trying to put up a poster.”
Wiens added that the response he had received had been empowering: “People never expect a youth to challenge the government.”