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The Ontario, Canada Catholic School Board LGBT controversy.

2011-JUN: "Voices that Challenge" student report.
Government pressure. Name selection problem.

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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-JUN-16: "Voices that Challenge" report:

Natalie Rizzo, the student trustee of the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) in Toronto, ON presented a report titled "Voices that Challenge" to the Board on behalf of the Catholic Student Leadership Impact Team. It provides "the Catholic student perspective on their issues of primary concern." Under the topic of "Inclusion and Belonging" they include a section on "Anti-Homophobia Education." They noted that:

  • "... homophobia hurts all students regardless of their sexual orientation; any student merely perceived to be a homosexual is subject to harassment and victimization, as homophobic comments have become the norm for insulting someone or something, "

  • "... homophobia enforces rigid gender roles and norms, denies individual expression, and perpetuates stereotypes, myths and misinformation."

  • "... homophobic harassment is a form of sexual harassment as defined in the Human Rights Code and the Ontario Ministry of Education."

They recommended that:

  • "... all religion classes in the TCDSB, both elementary and secondary, include anti-homophobia education as part of classroom curriculum."

  • "... all TCDSB schools include in their student handbooks definitions of homophobia, the unacceptability of homophobic behaviors, and the process of consequences that come along with those perpetuating homophobia."

  • "... all TCDSB schools educate staff members in supporting students targeted by homophobic harassment and victimization."

  • "... all TCDSB secondary schools ... [provide] save spaces for students to discuss issues surrounding homophobia and the giftedness of sexual orientation. At the discretion of the students involved, this space can be referred to as a 'Gay-Straight Alliance,' but preferably named according to those students who gather." 6

Some of these recommendations will be impossible for the TCDSB to implement because they violate the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. If one defines homophobia as taking action to limit or reduce the human rights of lesbians, gays and bisexuals, then the Church is, by definition, homophobic. The Church promotes an end to unjust discrimination against non-heterosexuals, but also promotes what they consider to be just discrimination, such as restrictions on employment opportunities, discrimination in marriage. They regard homosexual or bisexual orientation as intrinsically disordered. So, the TCDSB is caught in a difficult position, having to implement homophobic policies of the Church while being pressured by the Ontario Ministry of Education to provide a safe, non-judgmental place for students with a non-heterosexual sexual orientation. The Catholic school boards in Ontario have begun to allow student-led groups to combat homophobia. However, they will not allow the groups to be called "Gay-straight Alliances" and to use the rainbow flag as a symbol.

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2011-JUL-04: ON: Premier says Catholic & public high schools must have gay support groups: Glen Murray MLA for Toronto Centre read a statement by Premier Dalton McGuinty at Pride Toronto’s international marshals’ reception. It said:

"I am proud that effective this September, high school students who want their school to have a student support group for LGBT students will have one. This is not a matter of choice for school boards or principals. If students want it, they will have it. ... It’s one thing … to change a law, but it’s quite another to change an attitude. ... Attitudes are shaped by our life experiences and our understanding of the world. ... That should begin in the home and extend deep into our communities, including our schools." 7

McGuinty's letter is on a collission course with the Roman Catholic Church. The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wrote in a 1986 "Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons" that:

“No authentic pastoral programme will include organizations in which homosexual persons associate with each other without clearly stating that homosexual activity is immoral. ... We wish to make it clear that departure from the Church’s teaching, or silence about it, in an effort to provide pastoral care is neither caring nor pastoral. Only what is true can ultimately be pastoral. The neglect of the Church’s position prevents homosexual men and women from receiving the care they need and deserve." 7

In Ontario Canada, Roman Catholic "Separate" schools are fully funded by the government. No other religious school system receives funding.

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2011-AUG-22: Classes are about to start, and Catholic Schools can't decide what name(s) to allow:

An advisory group composed of about a dozen priests, trustees, teachers, parents and students associated with the Catholic school system in Ontario have been meeting all summer. They have been unable to compromise on a name to call the student-led anti-homophobia groups, and whether to allow them to use the rainbow flag as a symbol.

Nancy Kirby. who heads the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association said:

"It’s been a struggle; we want to have groups to help these students so they don’t feel suicide is the only option -- suicide rates among homosexual young people are higher -- but some people get caught up worrying that we’re going to forget about our Gospel teachings, and cause panic, so it’s taking longer than expected."

A major part of the problem is caused by the Roman Catholic Church's stand on sexual orientation, which are non-negotiable:

  • Official church teaching states that same-sex sexual behavior is intrinsically disordered. They differ on this point with all of the main professional associations of psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and human sexuality researchers, who have concluded that all three sexual orientations -- heterosexuality, bisexuality and homosexuality -- are normal and natural, although the latter two are relatively rare.

  • Official church teaching also states that certain forms of discrimination against women, lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender persons and transsexuals (LGBTs) are both necessary and moral. They differ on this point with various human rights groups, and the Government of Ontario who feel that all discrimination based on race, religion, sexual orientation, etc. is unacceptable. Meanwhile, it is the government that controls much of the funding for the Catholic Schools.

The problem is further complicated by the Catholic Church's traditional emphasis on social responsibility. They have fought on the side of fundamental human rights for decades and have sensitized the Catholic laity to the evils of discrimination and oppression. Some of the laity have taken this concern beyond what the Church leadership currently allows, and agree with a growing sentiment in the province that views all forms of homophobia as evil and as something to be strongly resisted.

Meanwhile, other Catholic laity are concerned that anti-homophobia clubs could lead Catholic Schools to promote homosexuality and bisexuality as acceptable sexual orientations, and promote same-sex marriage as a worthy goal.

The Toronto Star newspaper reported that:

"The trustees’ association sent a memo this week to all Catholic school boards reminding them to let students start such clubs as long as they don't contradict Catholic teachings, and noting what these clubs should be called or how they will operate will come later this fall."

Apparently, simply letting the student groups select whatever name they wish is off the table.

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Discussion of this topic continues in the next 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. Louise Brown, "Still no name for Catholic clubs against homophobia," Toronto Star, 2011-AUG-19, at: http://www.parentcentral.ca/
  9. 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/
Copyright © 2011 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2011-JUL-08
Author: B.A. Robinson
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