Ontario, Canada: Catholic "separate
school" conflict over gay-straight alliances (GSAs)
2011-NOV/2012-JAN: Anti-bullying legislation.
Task Force report forbidding GSA clubs released.
"LGBT" refers to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
"GSA" refers to Gay Straight Alliances, groups found in many high schools.
2011-NOV-30: Anti-bullying bill introduced to the Ontario Legislature:
Bill 13, "An act to amend the Education Act with respect to bullying and other matters," 1 received its first reading. Its short title is "Accepting Schools Act, 2011."
It says in part:
- >"The people of Ontario and the Legislative Assembly: ...<"
<"Believe that students need to be equipped with the knowledge, skills, attitude and values to engage the world and others critically, which means developing a critical consciousness that allows them to take action on making their schools and communities more equitable and inclusive for all people, including LGBTTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, transsexual, two-spirited, intersexed, queer and questioning) people..."
Every board shall support pupils who want to establish and lead ..."
"... activities or organizations that promote gender equity; ..."
"... activities or organizations that promote the awareness and understanding of, and respect for, people of all sexual orientations and gender identities, including organizations with the name gay-straight alliance or another name." 1
The reference to "gender equity" could force Catholic schools to allow student-led groups that promote the ordination of women to the diaconate and/or priesthood.
Respect for people of all "sexual orientations and gender identities" could force Catholic schools to allow student-led groups that advocate access to church-run pre-marital courses for same-sex couples, or allow such couples to have access to church annulment or the Catholic sacrament of marriage.
Considerable opposition to Bill 13 is being expressed by religious and social conservative individuals and groups. However, most of the concern appears to be related to an associated new sex-education policy of the Government of Ontario that includes material on the LGBT community being taught to junior grades in schools.
2012-JAN-26: Task force finally issues report on GSA clubs:
The special task force set up in the spring of 2011 by the Catholic bishops of Ontario finally released its report on student-led school clubs designed to promote equity and respect for all students. The report is titled "Respecting Difference." 2
The task force was chaired by Bishop Gerald Bergie of St. Catherines, ON, with "education officials" as members. 2 Curiously, the report does not contain a list of committee members. There is no indication from media articles whether teachers were involved. Students, for whom such clubs are being created, apparently had no role at all in the task force's deliberations.
The clubs that would be allowed are very different from the gay straight alliances (GSAs) that the students have requested. Terms such as "gay" and "homosexual" as well as the rainbow flag are forbidden. The report list caveats "... regarding what matters are appropriate and inappropriate for group discussion."
GSA clubs, which are found throughout the public school system, would not be allowed in Catholic schools in Ontario. The report states:
"While there will be groups established to address the care and safety needs of students dealing with issues related to gender identity or same-sex attraction, GSA clubs, per se, are not acceptable in Catholic schools for the following reason: externally developed programs (such as GSAs) do not meet all of the objectives and administrative procedural concerns for 'Respecting Difference' groups (as stated in this document)." 3
The task force's recommended name for the clubs is "Respecting Differences" By emphasizing differences among students of different sexual orientations, the name is directly opposite to the concept of the Gay-Straight Alliances which emphasizes cooperation, working together for a common aim.
Some guidelines expressed in the report:
- In a Catholic school we recognize and accept each and every student as a child of God who is to be treated with respect and love. Whatever excuse triggers the actions of the bully, all bullying is wrong and needs to be dealt with by the entire community.
- The Catholic faith stands resolutely against injustice including injustice in interpersonal relationships such as those typified by bullying. The scourge of bullying in education and in society must be resisted in Catholic schools who see bullying as completely unacceptable.
- All people, whatever their sexuality, single and/or married, are called to live a life of chastity..."
- The Guidelines have been developed to assist Catholic school boards to ... Promote 'Respecting Difference' activities or organizations in relation to the foregoing and ensure appropriate school supervision and consistency with principles of the Catholic faith.
- Procedures for "Respecting Differences" groups or activities in schools:
- The activities and organization of all groups or organizations formed within Catholic schools must be respectful of and consistent with Catholic teaching;
- All mentors appointed to work with groups of students must know and be committed to Catholic teachings;
- Any outside speakers must be respectful of Catholic teaching.
- Issues of gender identity, like those of sexual attraction, can be complex, delicate and highly personal. Pupils wrestling with such questions may well be in vulnerable psychological or spiritual conditions and may be exposed to unhelpful group pressure. For this reason such matters are best dealt with privately and confidentially with proper counseling and chaplinacy staff. 'Peer counseling' in such a forum as a student-led group is inappropriate for such a dialogue and could, in fact, put students at risk. Confidentiality and respect limit what can properly be discussed in a group setting and supervisors should limit discussions of this sort.
- Student Activities or Organizations are not intended for activism, protest or advocacy of anything that is not in accord with the Catholic faith foundation of the school.
- All materials whether for group use or for school/community awareness must be reviewed and approved by the staff advisor and administration.
- The staff advisor must be present for all meetings from beginning to end. 3
One unfortunate side effect of these guidelines is that the prohibition of peer counseling and restrictions on the discussion of personal problems within the student group may leave students with an inadequate support network. It is just such a support network that LGBT students need in order to face the terrorism and harassment so prevelant in the school environment.
2012-JAN-27: Letter to the Editor of the Toronto Star by Torontonian Faizal Ali:
Faizal Ali of Toronto sent the following analysis of the GSA conflict to the Toronto Star newspaper:
"The Ontario Catholic school boards are to be commended for at least attempting to address the serious problems of homophobia and bullying. However, their recently announced measures, which will allow Gay-Straight Alliances to exist, but only on condition that these groups remain subservient to Catholic doctrine and do not use the word 'Gay' in their title, nor mention or 'advocate' homosexuality itself, is likely to be counter-productive.
Homophobia can only be worsened by an attitude that deems homosexuality literally unmentionable, and the word 'gay' literally unspeakable.
This issue highlights a more fundamental problem with the Ontario public school system. While the Catholic Church has every right to try and propagate its views, it is unfair and discriminatory to provide it with a publicly funded school system to help it in this endeavor, while denying the same privilege to any other religious group.
However, to provide a similar system for every religious denomination is obviously impractical. The only feasible solution is to eliminate the Catholic school system, and establish a single secular school system." 4
The following information sources
were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not
necessarily still active today.
- "Bill 13: 2011: An Act to amend the Education Act with respect to bullying and other matters," Ontario Legislature, 2011, at: http://www.ontla.on.ca/
- Fr. Alphonse de Valk, "Parents! Teachers! Trustees! Respecting difference," Catholic Insight, 2012-FEB-02, at: http://catholicinsight.com/
- "Respecting Difference," Ontario Catholic School Trustees' Association, 2012-JAN-25, at: http://www.campaignlifecoalition.com/
- Faizal Ali, "Wrong approach on gay alliances," The Toronto Star, 2012-JAN-30, at: http://www.thestar.com/
Copyright © 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2012-FEB-05
Author: B.A. Robinson