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

2011-JAN: The Halton County board initially
bans GSAs. Then, it votes to revisit their policy.

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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-11: ON: Canadian Catholic school board in Halton Municipality initially bans gay-straight student clubs:

Halton Municipality consists of the city of Burlington and the towns of Halton Hills, Milton and Oakville in Ontario. This covers an area South and Southwest of Toronto. The Halton Catholic District School Board (HCDSB) appeard to be a very unfriendly place for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons:

Back in 2009, when Chelsey Worth was attending one of its schools, she was forbidden by the principal from planning a day of silence to honor gay students who had been harassed and bullied. Worth said: "It was supposed to be a day to commemorate gay students that suffered from bullying. He didn’t let us say anything. He just talked at us and it was over." 1

Alice Anne LeMay, the chairperson of the Halton Catholic District School Board, commented that the GSAs' beliefs do not match the teachings of the Catholic Church. Thus, the Board does not allow them in their schools. This may well be interpreted by homophobic students as encouraging an open season on the harassment and bashing of gays. Ms. LeMay followed up her comment by saying that the board does not allow Nazi groups for the same reason. She has since apologized for the Nazi remark saying:

"It was not my intent to make any type of comparison between gay-straight alliances and Nazi groups. Rather, I was providing a number of examples of groups that are not endorsed and permitted in Halton Catholic schools, for example, groups in favor of abortion [access] or hate groups of any nature. I did not make a direct comparison between gay-straight alliances and any of these groups, nor was that my intent." 2

Sarah Kelly, a masters of education student at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, has worked with two GSA groups. She started a Facebook group “Fight the Halton Catholic School Board’s Ban on Gay Straight Alliances." She actively promoted a petition and helped organize a protest at the HCDSB meeting on JAN-18 in Burlington. She said: "I’m also getting my students in the GSA groups involved. This is very important. This is shocking. This blatantly violates the Ontario Human Rights Code." 2

A new trustee on the board, Paul Marai, 22, who is gay, has promised to challenge the board's policy at its next meeting. Meanwhile, the famous entertainer Perez Hilton launched a Facebook petition against the policy. 2

Mike Pautler, director of education at Halton board, says there are many supports for diverse students that: "...foster a better sense of understanding ... healthy relationships and a nurturing environment ... all of those things are consistent with the teachings of the Catholic Church."

The Catholic Church accepts that a homosexual orientation is generally fixed and unchosen. They expect lesbians and gays to remain celibate. The church also regards a homosexual orientation as intrinsically disordered, and believes that some types of discrimination against LGBT persons and groups are moral and ethical.

Catherine Fife, president of the Ontario Public School Boards' Association said: "There’s no good reason any school should not have a gay-straight alliance if students want one. They build relationships and understanding and ultimately create a safer learning environment."

Ken Jeffers is the new coordinator of "gender-based violence prevention" for the Toronto District School Board that operates the public schools in Toronto. The board has 12 GSAs among its 104 public high schools. He said: "The basic idea of most gay-straight alliances is to provide a safe space to talk about what it feels like to be gay, or to be friends with someone who is gay. Where the safety factor comes in is that you don’t have to disclose whether you’re gay to join — you might be a straight ally. So you’re less likely to be targeted for discrimination."

However, one reason why the Halton board wants to ban GSAs is allegedly to protect the privacy of students whose sexual orientation may be revealed by such groups.

Nancy Kirby, president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association, said that the goal of Catholic school boards "... is to end discrimination against anyone in our society. But we still have to follow the church teachings." She appears to be unaware that the Catholic Church teaches that some forms of discrimination against LGBTs are moral, legitimate, and needed. 2

In contrast, there are 14 GSAs in Halton County's public high schools. A full-time facilitator helps their GSAs. The public school board also has a team of educators who provide specific support on issues related to sexual orientation and gender identity. They monitor books for inclusiveness and run "Inside and Out," -- an annual conference on LGBT topics. 3

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Week of 2011-JAN-09: Catholic school board holds preliminary vote:

The Halton Catholic District School Board held a preliminary vote which favored scrapping their anti-gay policy by a vote of 6 to 2. John-Henry Westen, reporter for Life Site News, a Canadian Catholic news source, was not impressed:

  • He criticized Paul Marai, the new trustee who is gay, because he did not reveal that he was "a homosexual activist" during the campaign. He did not criticize the other trustees who did not reveal their sexual orientation either.

  • He criticized the Board for their preliminary vote in favor of scrapping the current anti-gay equity policy that he described as "... more faithful to Catholic teaching on the matter than any other in the province."

  • He commented that:
    "The Halton [Catholic District School Board] equity policy includes explicit wording to prevent instruction in schools that undermines Catholic teaching in the area of homosexuality, which has been the central concern by Catholics about the government’s equity strategy." 4
    It is worth noting that the GSAs would be a student club, and not form part of the school teachings.

In his article, Westen provided Email addresses, postal addresses and telephone numbers of the trustees, as well as many members of the Catholic hierarchy in the area.

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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. Andrea Houston, "Xtra story on Halton Catholic GSA ban sparks outrage," Xtra, 2011-JAN-10, at: http://www.xtra.ca/
  2. "Halton Catholic board bans gay-straight student alliances," 2011-JAN-10, at: http://www.thestar.com
  3. Louise Brown, "Halton Catholic board overturns ban on gay-straight clubs," Parent Central, 2011-JAN-18, at: http://www.parentcentral.ca/
  4. John-Henry Westen, "Ontario bishops to schools: use anti-bullying programs faithful to Catholic teaching," LifeSiteNews, 2011-JAN-17, at: http://www.lifesitenews.com/
Copyright © 2011 and 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2012-FEB-04
Author: B.A. Robinson
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