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Religion and homosexuality

A conflict between anti-homophobia
education and religious freedom

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A conflict in Toronto, ON, Canada during 2004:

This essay describes an event in Toronto, Ontario, Canada involving homosexuality, same-sex marriage, and same-sex parenting . It shows how people often talking past, rather than to, each other about homosexuality. They promote their conclusions without attempting to reach agreement on fundamentals.

The conflict could have easily happened elsewhere in Canada or in Massachusetts, California, or any other U.S. state in which gays, lesbians and bisexuals are rapidly gaining rights and protections, including the right to marry. It could come to your jurisdiction soon.

The incident involved:

bullet Concerned Muslim parents who were concerned about their freedom to teach their children to reject the legitimacy of same-sex marriage and same-sex parenting, and
bullet The local school board who wanted to teach their students to understand, accept, and value sexual diversity.

In this instance, Muslim parents were involved. However, it could have just as easily involved conservative Christians, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, or parents of other religious groups.

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A parent-school board discussion:

A meeting was held at the Market Lane Public School in downtown Toronto, ON during 2004-NOV. There were about 150 parents present -- mostly Muslims who wanted to exclude their children from classes which the school board called "anti-homophobia 1 education." The course teaches tolerance of families headed by same-sex parents. Of the 560 students at the school, about 10 to 15% are Muslim; mostly having emigrated from North African countries. The board has a policy of accommodating parents' religious rights. However, Patricia Hayes, a human rights expert with the school board, said: "Religious beliefs do not trump human rights." She also said that if Muslim children were to get up and leave the room when the film was going to be shown, "we would be creating a very toxic learning environment for those other children."

At the meeting, a National Film Board Production called "Sticks and Stones" was shown. The film is also used in the anti-homophobia classes. It shows a number of interviews with children of same-sex parents. One child in the film said: "The worst thing about having gay dads is people make fun of you."

Some comments by those attending the meeting:

bullet One of the Muslim parents leaving the meeting was concerned that their religious rights to reject same-sex parenting had received less respect than same-sex parents' rights had received. Mohamed Yassin said:

"They showed a gay lifestyle to the kids without the knowledge of the parents. [The school board is]....willing to help gay students with support. Gay people have their rights. I have my rights."

bullet Michelle Flecker, a second equity worker, said:

"There is sometimes the misunderstanding that anti-homophobia education is sex education. It does not involve the explicit description of sexual activity. It discusses families."

She discusses the Toronto board's equity policy as:

"... one of the most inclusive in North America. Anti-homophobia education does not teach children that their family's religion is wrong. It does not influence children's sexual orientation."

bullet A lesbian introduced her same-sex partner at the meeting and was applauded. She said:

"We're not talking about us having sex; we're talking about my daughter receiving respect."

bullet Alimamy Bangura, a member of the Campaign for Public Education and a founder of the Muslim Education Network said:

"The Muslim community has been well received by the board. In every school where accommodation has been requested by the Muslim community, the board has responded very generously." 2

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Reaction by the general public:

The Toronto Star's web site received over 400 responses to their newspaper article on the Market Lane Public School meeting. Some reactions were:

bullet Jennifer Breckenridge:

"I agree with the decision but can only hope that when Catholic, Protestant or Jewish parents make requests around similar issues that the board stands up to them as well."

bullet Michelle deChavigny:

"The point is not about agreeing with homosexuality, it's simply about respecting it. Regardless of what your religious background dictates, no world religion out there tells anyone that they should love their neighbor as they love themselves, but only if their neighbor is of the same color, religion and sexual orientation. Are all people not creations of God?"

bullet Malik Datardina:

"Canada has shown what it actually means by 'tolerance' by forcing Muslim children to be subjected to ideas alien to Islam. Canada will only be happy with Muslims once Muslims abandon Islamic thinking and adopt secularism as a way of thinking."

bullet Name deleted by request:

"Good for the school board. Being sensitive to religious and cultural issues does not mean pandering to prejudice. On the contrary, I think to do so would be patronizing. We should expect the same level of decency and respect from all Canadians, regardless of religion or lack thereof. As someone from a Muslim background, who's felt the sting of homophobia first-hand, I say shame on the parents. What sorts of bigotry do they want their children to inherit? The same kind that will eventually be turned against them?"

bullet Linda Erskine:

"When children of same-sex families are being ridiculed in school, then I think it's time that education about same-sex families be brought into the school. Wasn't it not long ago that skin color brought on bullying in schools? Let's educate our children so that everyone may be treated equally."

bullet Ryan Glenn:

"This issue has nothing to do with whether or not you are for or against homosexuality. What the TDSB is trying to do is protect children whose parents are homosexual from abuse at school. How could anyone be against that?"

bullet Keven Griffiths:

"If the province's views are unacceptable, one can always pursue privately funded education."

bullet Cathy Hamill-Hill:

"We take out the Lord's Prayer, labeling it 'inappropriate', and now our tax dollars are spent in explaining same-sex behavior? This new 'education' is a slap in the face to Christians; but we are used to it by now."

bullet Kyla Hart:

"The school board is trying to teach children not to hate. They are then looking at all the things children typically pick on and trying to lessen the negative stereotypes surrounding these issues. I wonder at parents who wish their children not to be taught tolerance. Telling a child to stop hurting another does not teach them that a difference is something they must embrace, merely that it is not something to use to torment another."

bullet Lisa Hayes:

"Iím in a same-sex relationship and my partner and I have a 2-year-old son. After reading all of the comments, I canít help but feel real concern for how my son will be treated by the children of some of these comment writers. All parents want their children to be treated with tolerance and respect. Itís incredible to me that the [Toronto District School Board] TDSB education program, which is aimed only at promoting tolerance for children from same-sex families, becomes twisted in the minds of many into an immoral message about sexuality. The goal is simply to create a learning environment that is free from psychological harm for children like my son."

bullet Marc Henderson:

"If the Muslim parents refuse to let their children learn about Canadian multiculturalism and the respect of other peopleís sexual preference, religion and culture, how are they themselves supposed to be respected?"

bullet Chris Herbener:

"This is not just a Muslim issue. More Christians, as I am, and Jews should be standing as firm as the Muslims on this issue of choice for what we wish our children exposed to in the schools, regardless of the topic. If gay-ed classes are to be permitted, at least allow equal time for different faiths to be discussed in the schools, because faith is the cornerstone of many families."

bullet Earl Hollingsworth:

"My family and I are evangelical Christians and the homosexual lifestyle is an abomination to our faith and the God we serve...I am sick and tired of other groups shoving 'their' rights down my throat while trampling all over mine. I have three children in the school system and I have instructed them all to leave when these immoral discussions begin."

bullet Javaid Khan:

"When I immigrated to Canada, I was told that I will have religious freedom as guaranteed by the Charter of Rights. Forcing Muslims to let their children be taught ideas against the basic tenets of their religion at a young age does not fit into this picture."

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Reaction by the general public (Cont'd):

bullet Kim Koyama:

"Some argue 'the children will figure it out on their own.' But if children are learning at such an early age to discriminate against those with gay parents, then someone is teaching intolerance at home, and schools have an obligation to respond."

bullet Alex MacLean:

"I hope the Board sticks to its guns on this. Religion is not a 'get out of tolerance free' card, should not be dictating curriculum or shutting down human rights education."

bullet Denbigh Patton:

"Freedom 'of' religion cannot exist unless freedom 'from' religion exists. Or should we have a 'debate' in Canada about which is the One True Religion? Canada's beauty is that it is secular and the law is non-religious."

bullet Claudio Pilarte:

"Teaching kids, regardless of their religion, that our nation is made up of many types of people and many types of families can only help them better understand the real meaning behind Canada's acceptance towards all minorities."

bullet Brenda Power:

"This issue is not really about homosexuality, religion or sexual morality. It's about teaching children to treat each other with kindness and respect. When I was in school many years ago, teachers neither knew nor cared about such issues. Thus victimized kids were left to fend for themselves. As well, no matter how much you disagree with something, such as same-sex couples, this doesn't change the fact that they exist, and their kids exist; and those kids, just like any other kids, have the right to enjoy their childhood without the pain of bullying and taunting. Educating children about differences is really a type of sensitivity training and removing children from this training is sending them a very strong message - a message of intolerance and non-acceptance."

bullet Adam Richardson:

"The public school system is under no obligation to shield specific religious groups from reality. Mitigating the persecution of any group, through education, is worthwhile."

bullet Stacey Roucheleau-Bourgeois:

"Tolerance needs to be taught at school because it is not always taught at home. I wonder if this will result in fewer suicides for gay youth. We can only hope."

bullet Beate Scheel:

"Shame on the Toronto School Board. What has happened to their morals? Just because politicians have agreed to same sex marriage, does not mean that the general population agrees."

bullet Scott Shady:

"There is no need to teach this sensitive issue in our schools. Children are being taught to tolerate homosexuality through TV shows (Will & Grace, Spin City)."

bullet Laura Teeple:

"I believe that for a general education, it is important to expose children to different situations. If a parent wants a child to be taught according to the doctrines of a specific religion, then send the child to the appropriate religious school, or at least supplement their general education with visits to the local worship center of choice."

bullet Kelvin Wannamaker:

"I think it is great that the Board of Education is pushing for all students to get this information so they can make a intelligent decision on this issue for themselves without the prejudice that adults and parents can inflict on their children." 3

Excerpts from two letters to the editor that were published in the Toronto Star:

bullet John Carrick:

"...Illiberal thinking, identifying itself as providing a higher standard of morality, is common to all of our religious faiths. Intolerance toward those who dissent is a prime trait of the intensely religious....A positive aspect of this sort of problem is that hidebound conservative values are strongest among the older generation. Thus, we can be assured that as times passes, Canadians will make progress toward a more liberal and tolerant society, if only one funeral at a time."

bullet Michael Moore:

"Schools should be safe, inclusive places for all students and families -- including gays and lesbians. Muslim students should not be permitted to sit out anti-homophobia education, any more than the children of white supremacists should be allowed to sit out Black History Month. If any parents do not like what it taught at a public school, they can share their views with their child at the end of the day and thank the school for fostering such a discussion." 4

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Provincial Premier and others weigh in:

Reacting to the story of the school board meeting, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty urged parents who seek to exclude their children from anti-homophobia education to be more tolerant. He said:

"To me, this speaks to a kind of broader issue. What kind of society do we want to live in; what kind of society are we trying to build? I think the kind of society that we should all aspire to is where we respect each other's difference. That's fundamentally what this is all about and I think our children should be taught to respect the differences that we manifest....It's important all our children -- all our children -- have the opportunity to learn about those things that distinguish one of us from the other and that they learn to respect those differences."

Suzanne Muir, diversity coordinator for the nearby Halton District School Board who happens to be a Muslim said: We know that the students:

"...are going to be in class with kids of same-sex parents and they have to respect that, treat everyone kindly and not exclude them....If a kindergarten teacher is talking about who is in your family and a child draws a picture of two dads, you can't ignore it and say: 'Draw a mommy'. That's the reality of public schools. Families are different. We may not agree, but we have to respect these families."

Tarek Fatah of the Muslim Canadian Congress supports the school board's decision. He said that these families:

 "...want selective human rights that protect them and not others. These parents want absolute control of their children. They are scared their children will grow up with their own thinking, that young women will grow up with independent ideas."

Zafar Bangash, president of the Islamic Society of York Region said:

"We don't want our children subject to that kind of thinking. It's very clear in our belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. It [same-sex marriage] goes against the core beliefs of Muslims; our understanding springs directly from the Qur'an."

[That may have been a misquote, because Islam allows polygynous relationships -- normally limited to one man and up to four women.]

Chris D'souza , equity officer at the Dufferin-Peel District School Board, has organized a conference designed to sensitize teachers and administrators to diversity issues. It was overbooked when more than 225 educators signed up. He said: "It's current. It's in the media. People want to know more about it." 5

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Home > "Hot" religious topics > Homosexuality > Religious aspects > here

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  1. On this website, we define "homophobia" to be engaging in a behavior aimed at restricting the human rights of persons who have a homosexual orientation and/or who engages in homosexual behavior. More information.

  2. Tess Kalinowski, "Muslim students can't skip gay ed. Matter of respect, public board says. 150 parents debate issue at meeting," The Toronto Star, 2004-NOV-17, Page A1 and A22.

  3. staff, "Voices: The gay ed debate," the Toronto Star, at

  4. The Toronto Star, 2004-NOV-18, Page A29.

  5. Robert Benzie, et al., "Premier calls for 'gay-ed' class tolerance. School refuses to excuse Muslims. Teachers flocking to diversity class," The Toronto Star, 2004-NOV-18, Page A1 & A25.

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Copyright © 2004 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2004-NOV-18
Latest update: 2007-AUG-03
Author: B.A. Robinson

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