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Ontario, Canada: Catholic "separate
school" conflict over gay-straight alliances (GSAs)

2011-JAN: Catholic bishops issue statement.
Halton County board rescinds equity statement.
Xtra! news finds zero GSAs in separate schools.

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Sponsored link.
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"LGBT" refers to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.

"GSA" refers to Gay Straight Alliances, student-led groups found in many high schools.

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This is a continuation of a previous essay

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2011-JAN-14: The Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario releases statement:

They wrote:

"We proclaim that every individual, young or old, is to be treated with reverence, and that we are to see the face of Christ in every person. Bullying is wrong under any circumstances and all schools should provide a safe and welcoming environment for each student. Indeed, in 2004 the bishops sponsored the development of pastoral guidelines to ensure that such an environment was in place in Catholic secondary schools for students dealing with the issue of same-sex orientation, long before the government mandated an equity and inclusivity policy. ..." [Emphasis ours]

"The debate surrounding Gay/Straight Alliances (GSAs) in Catholic high schools is being complicated by the fact that people are not distinguishing between an objective and a strategy. GSAs are a strategy that some people propose to achieve an objective with which the Bishops of Ontario are in agreement: that all students in schools feel safe and respected. Our objective is that each student be treated with dignity, for each is a child of God. It is not right or fair to suggest that one particular strategy is the only way to achieve a given goal. We seek to achieve the goal of a safe and loving environment for all students in a way that is in harmony with our faith. 8

Their letter contains one unexpected word "orientation." To our knowledge, this is the first time that an arm of the Roman Catholic Church has referred to a sexual orientation as an "orientation." That is the term universally used by the LGBT community, psychologists, psychiatrists, other therapists, human sexuality researchers, social workers, religious liberals, secularists, etc. This may have been an oversight, or may mark a major change.

Unfortunately, they did not explicitly state whether GSAs work "... in a way that is in harmony with our faith" or in opposition to their faith. Also, they did not clarify what types of discrimination and oppressions of LGBTs are acceptable and promoted by the Church: they apparently are opposed to bullying and physical attacks. They appear to be opposed to harassment, even as they approve of other types of active discrimination.

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2011-JAN-18: Catholic school board meets and votes to reverse its position:

Queer Ontario, an advocacy group supporting LGBT persons, had sent an open letter to the trustees, saying that gay-straight alliances are an effective means of countering homophobia in school; they urged the trustees to not deny this resource to their students.

The Halton Catholic District School Board meeting was attended by representatives from many LGBT-positive groups, civil rights groups, interested citizens, and included a few recently elected trustees.

The trustees heard stories from three supporters of GSAs, including James Hopkins who suffered taunting from fellow students while attending one of the school board's high schools because he was gay. He said:

"You don’t have to be gay to be a member of a gay-straight alliance. The only requirement of members of these groups is to show up with an open mind and an open heart."

The board voted 6 to 2 to scrap their earlier equity and inclusion statement and to write a new one. LGBTs, civil rights supporters and others hope that the new statement will allow gay-straight alliances in their high schools. However, there are no guarantees. With the Church advocating certain types of discrimination against LGBTs and the Government of Ontario demanding a equity statement that bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, the task of writing a compromise document will not be easy. Fortunately, they will have the equity and inclusion statements of other Catholic school boards to use as a resource.

Trustee John Mark Rowe said:

"As a new trustee, I must represent the big picture, which means all students must be able to attend school without fear."

Trustee Jane Michael voted to preserve the ban. She said that the Catholic religion "... takes exception to the homosexual lifestyle." 1 Religious conservatives often refer to homosexuality as a chosen "lifestyle" and as a behavior. Human sexuality researchers, therapists, religious liberals, secularists, etc. generally refer to homosexuality as an orientation and a feeling of sexual attraction that is discovered, not chosen.

That evening, after the Board's decision, three readers of the ParentCentral.ca web site posted comments:

  • "Toronto1066" wrote: "Why exactly do tax payers fund a separate school board? 21st century Canada?!?!"

  • "Counsellor_35" responded: "The funding of Catholic schools is required by the British North America Act, but the House of Lords also recognized that that Act is a 'living tree' which must change with the times. If the Catholic school system wants public funding, it must recognize that religious dogma dictating social mores dating back 2000 years is no longer relevant. Love is love. Accept that and rejoice."

  • "Bangthedrum wrote": "Now that they've seen the light on this, perhaps we can all start talking about the necessity of birth control and population containment. It's 2011. Get with it." 1

A little after midnight following the Board's decision, the facebook page "Fight the Halton Catholic School Board's Ban on Gay Straight Alliances" announced:

"The Ban has been rescinded! Thank you so much to everyone who came out and supported! Thank you also to all those who have signed the petition and could not make it. Thank you everyone for all the support everywhere. This is just the beginning to assure all Queer youth have a safe space in schools!

Entertainer Perez Hilton, who featured the Halton controversy on his web site, posted a message on 2011-JAN-19:

"We are pleased to reported that the students of Halton Catholic District School Board in Ontario, Canada who wished to express themselves in a gay student group won't be banned from doing so any longer.

The Trustees on the school's board voted yesterday to lift the ban implemented by the school's former regulators last fall. Remarkably, the final vote stood at 6-2.

We hope they understand the powerful message they are sending their students. Today, they've shown these kids who wish to express their inclusion in the gay community that they are accepted and no different from anyone else.

An immense and commendable step forward!

Equality for all!" 2

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Study indicates zero gay-straight alliances in Ontario's Catholic schools:

Xtra!, a Canadian gay and lesbian news source, found that:

"Gay clubs are prohibited by bishops at all Ontario Catholic schools.

That contradicts what's been said by politicians, school officials and even gay lobbyists, who claim that there are gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in the province's Catholic schools.

Xtra contacted all 29 of Ontario's Catholic school boards; not a single one reported having a GSA.

Moreover, not only are GSAs prohibited by Catholic bishops, but Ontario's taxpayer-supported school system's understanding of homosexuality — and its gay students — is determined by these religious leaders, not the policies of the Ministry of Education. ..."

"All curriculum taught at Ontario Catholic schools is vetted by the Institute for Catholic Education. The institute was formed 25 years ago when the province extended full funding to Catholic high schools. Its membership is made up of associations representing Catholic principals, trustees, the teachers' union, business officials, supervisory officers, parents and the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario (ACBO). The ACBO is the final authority in the province on what is - and isn't - determined to be 'Catholic.'

Sister Joan Cronin, executive director of the institute, explains. 'They have the moral suasion of guarding the Catholic tradition. If you read canon law, you'll see the role of the bishop is to govern, sanctify and teach. They have the responsibility of seeing the Catholic tradition is taught,' she says.

In 2004, the institute published the chief document used to inform all Ontario Catholic school teachings on the subject of homosexuality, the Pastoral Guideline to Assist Students of Same-Sex Orientation. ..." 9

"Part of this damage control included leaving voters with the impression that the problem of homophobic discrimination was isolated to a single Catholic school board.

Speaking at a public meeting at the 519 Church Street Community Centre on Feb 9, gay MPP Glen Murray, a cabinet minister in the provincial government, spoke on the subject of Catholic GSAs in the province: 'Where are the gay-straight alliances? You find just as many in Catholic schools as you do in public'." 10

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Discussion of this topic continues in another essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Louise Brown, "Halton Catholic board overturns ban on gay-straight clubs," Parent Central, 2011-JAN-18, at: http://www.parentcentral.ca/
  2. Perez Hilton, "Dear Canada: This Rocks!," 2011-JAN-19, at: http://perezhilton.com/
  3. Louise Brown, "Catholic school trustees permit clubs focusing on gay students. About turn stops short of allowing ‘gay-straight alliances’ ," The Toronto Star, 2011-APR-27, at: http://olympics.thestar.com/
  4. Quotation: Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, ... tradition has always declared that 'homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered'." Catechism of the Catholic Church. §2357.
  5. "Catholic schools: Embrace the rainbow," The Toronto Star, 2011-JUN-11, at: http://www.thestar.com/
  6. Catholic Student Leadership Impact Team, "Voices that Challenge," 2011-JUN-16, at: http://www.tcdsb.org/
  7. Patrick Craine, "Ontario Premier: Catholic schools have no choice but to accept gay clubs," Life Site News, 2011-JUL-04, at: http://www.lifesitenews.com/
  8. "Statement from the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario," Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario, 2011-JAN-14, at: http://www.lifesitenews.com This is a PDF file.
  9. Justin Stayshyn & Andre Houston, "Catholic bishops prohibit gay-straight alliances in Ontario schools. Gay label to be 'avoided', educators told," Xtra, 2011-FEB-11, at: http://www.xtra.ca/
  10. Pastoral Guidelines to assist students of same-sex attraction," Education Commission of the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2004, at: http://www.scribd.com/
Copyright © 2011 & 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2012-FEB-04
Author: B.A. Robinson
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