Ontario, Canada: Catholic "separate
school" conflict over gay-straight alliances (GSAs)
Description of the basic conflict
The basic problem:
In the past, provinces and territories in Canada all had "separate schools" run by the Roman Catholic Church which Catholics supported via their personal municipal taxes. Some provinces have since adopted a different system. For example:
- Quebec: Because two main languages -- French and English -- are spoken there, the province had English speaking public schools, English separate schools, French public schools and French separate schools. For reasons of efficiency, the four types of schools were consolidated into two: French and English speaking public schools -- all funded and controlled by the government.
Ontario: The provincial government directly funds primary and secondary separate schools under the control of the Church, as well as public schools. In return, the province requires the schools to meet certain minimum requirements. Most of the time, this system works well. There are continuing complaints by other Christian denominations and other religions who also run religious schools, and yet receive no funding.
However on matters of human sexuality, conflict is inevitable. Starting in 2011, problems emerged about the protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students (LGBT) from violence and other forms of harassment. An additional problem surfaces from time to time because the Ontario Government because it only funds Catholic school system. It has been cited as religiously intolerant because it refuses to fund the schools of other Christian denominations or of other religions.
In Ontario, there are five different groups involved in the separate schools and its LGBT students. Their interests are in conflict. This leads to disagreements over LGBT matters.The groups are:
The Roman Catholic Church:
Unlike conservative Protestant denominations, the Church teaches that:
- An individual discovers their sexual orientation rather than choosing it.
- A person's sexual orientation is generally fixed, not changeable.
The Catholic Church agrees with other conservative Christian groups that:
- A homosexual orientation is a disordered, abnormal and unnatural state.
- Same-sex sexual behavior is a violation of natural law, as they view it. It is a sin so serious that it may cause the person to spend eternity in the torture chambers of Hell.
- It is morally acceptable for the church, governments, employers, etc. to discriminate against persons with a homosexual orientation in certain ways.
The Church teaches that persons with a bisexual orientation must remain celibate for life unless they are sexually active with a person of the opposite sex to whom they are married. In spite of Genesis 2:18 -- the verse in which God is quoted as saying that it is not good for a person to live alone without an significant other -- the Church teaches that a person with a homosexual orientation must remain celibate for life, without a significant other. The Courage Apostolate, a support group for LGBT persons that is approved by the Church, promotes this teaching.
The Church is opposed to student run anti-homophobia clubs if they contain certain forbidden words in their title (like "gay") or if they use the rainbow flag -- the universal symbol of the LGBT community. They particularly dislike the term "Gay Straight Alliance" (GSA).
The Government of Ontario:
Agrees with the LGBT community and the vast majority of therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, human sexuality researchers, religious liberals, secularists, civil rights advocates etc. that homosexuality, bisexuality and heterosexuality are three normal, natural, unchosen and unchangeable -- or at least nearly fixed -- sexual orientations in adulthood. The government promotes tolerance and equal rights for persons with all three orientations, including the right to marry the person that they love and to whom they have made a lifetime commitment. The government is particularly concerned with the gay bashing, expressions of hatred against LGBT students, and other forms of harassment that is found in schools. They insist that schools permit students to organize a support group to combat hatred, harassment, and violence if they wish. As a result, Gay-Straight Alliances (GSAa) are found in many public schools.
The Ontario English Catholic Teacher's Association (OECTA):
The Ontario Catholic School Trustees' Association (OCSTA):
- The OCSTA are caught in the middle between the demands of the provincial government and the teachings of the Catholic Church. They administer the school systems.
The LGBT students and their straight supporters:
- They are the victims of gay bashing, oppression, and harassment. Most want the freedom to organize a GSA in their school like the students in the public schools are allowed to do.
With five active groups having such different priorities, beliefs, principles, and goals, conflict is inevitable. Unfortunately it is the most vulnerable people -- the students -- who suffer the most.
It is a problem in search of a non-existent solution:
- The Ontario Government recommends the formation of GSAs wherever students ask for them. They view GSAs as an effective way to support LGBT students and to lower the level of homophobia and gay bashing in high schools, .
- The Government funds the separate school system!
The Ontario's Human Rights Code, which all school systems must follow, bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation 2 and gender identity. 3 The Code is thus in conflict with the Church's teaching on LGBTs.
The Ontario Government issued a mandate requiring all school boards -- public and religious -- to adopt an equity policy by the Fall of 2011. It was to include the recognition of sexual orientation as a prohibited ground for discrimination. 4
- The Catholic Church teaches that some forms of discrimination against LGBT persons are ethical, moral, and necessary.
- The Church expects that Catholic Boards will not deviate from Roman Catholic School teaching; their wiggle room is limited even if they wanted to reach a compromise.
There are thousands of gay-straight alliances (GSA) in public schools throughout North America. They were first popularized in the U.S. and have spread throughout Canada. The need for these groups is universal, and was recognized over a decade ago by the Center for Disease
Control and Prevention in the U.S. They wrote:
"Regardless of a child's ethnic, socioeconomic, religious, sexual orientation, or physical status, all
children have a right to safety. When victimization through bullying,
verbal abuse, and physical violence is prevalent in a school, the entire
school community experiences the consequences. When abuse against a
particular group is perceived as acceptable, intergroup hatreds can
become established... Students who are different from the
majority of their classmates because of their race, ethnicity, sexual
orientation, religion, or other personal characteristics are at
increased risk for being bullied. Gay, lesbian, or bisexual students,
and students perceived to be gay by their peers are often victims of
repeated verbal abuse and physical assault," 5
Discussion of this topic continues in the next essay
The following information sources
were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not
necessarily still active today.
Kevin O'Dwyer, "Catholic teachers back gay-straight alliances," The Toronto Star, 2012-FEB-02, at: http://read.thestar.com/
"SEXUAL ORIENTATION: Your Rights and Responsibilities," Ontario Human Rights Commission, 2011-APR-21, at: http://www.ohrc.on.ca/
"Human rights in Ontario – Gender Identity," Ontario Human Rights Commission, 2011-APR-21, at: http://www.ohrc.on.ca/
John-Henry Westen, "Ontario bishops to schools: use anti-bullying programs faithful to Catholic teaching," LifeSiteNews, 2011-JAN-17, at: http://www.lifesitenews.com/
"School Health Guidelines to Prevent Unintentional Injuries and
Violence," Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2001-DEC-7,
Copyright © 2011 and 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2012-FEB-03
Author: B.A. Robinson