The Windsor-Essex Catholic School Board, Ontario, Canada, has relented and agreed to allow gay-straight alliances use the name “gay-straight alliance” in state-supported Catholic schools. The decision comes after over a year of wrangling with government officials about the use of the name. The provincial government passed Bill 13 in the spring requiring that a gay-straight alliance be established if a student requests one.
“The Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board has backed off its hardline stance against allowing gay-straight alliances now that the province has made accepting them law as part of Bill 13, passed in June.
“Secondary school principals and vice-principals will be undergoing training later this month on how to implement and structure such clubs, which will only be formed when a student asks for one.
” ‘We fully understand what the law says and we’ll be compliant with the law,’ said superintendent of education Mike Seguin.
” ‘So we’re prepared to do everything we can to make sure we have a safe and inclusive environment in that context.’
“In May the board said it would not heed the wishes of Premier Dalton McGuinty and allow the clubs to be called gay-straight alliances. Instead, board chairwoman Barbara Holland maintained the clubs would be called social justice equity clubs unless a law deemed otherwise.
“But with the passage of Bill 13, ‘An Act to amend the Education Act with respect to bullying and other matters,’ on June 5, the province made law the allowance of clubs to call themselves gay-straight alliances in all school boards.”
The Catholic school board will also continue with its social justice equity clubs, according to Seguin:
“We decided to make social justice equity clubs mandatory in all of our secondary schools. And we did that by policy over a year ago. Those will continue because it’s our view that it’s better to address the needs of all people who are marginalized in different ways. Whether it’s people based on body type or special needs and so forth because we see bullying takes on a face that is very complex.”
The decision was met with excitement and enthusiasm from students eager to form gay -straight alliances. CBC.ca reports:
” ‘There’s a lot of homophobia at our school and I think it would benefit our school a lot to have a safe environment for everyone,’ said Dallas Mahaney.
“The 16-year-old Saint Thomas of Villanova Catholic High School said he’s comfortable with being gay. He hopes the alliance will help destroy homophobia.”
According to a separate Windsor Star article, one student hailed the move as a way to end the interminable bullying she has received:
For several months almost daily at school, Adriana Unis endured bullying for who she is.
“I was in one class where they told me to kill myself,” the 15-year-old St. Joseph’s high school student said Wednesday about the taunts of a couple of boys last semester. “It was because I was gay. They were saying because I was a lesbian my parents should have killed me.”
Unis said she had heard insults before, but those words hurt.
“I’m kind of used to it, I guess, but it was still upsetting,” she said.
Unis did not know what to do. She vaguely told a teacher about it, saying only that she was having some problems with kids, but nothing much was done.
That’s why she’s thrilled the provincial government has passed Bill 13, Ontario’s antibullying legislation, which requires schools to create gaystraight alliance clubs if a student requests one.
And one person with great experience with gay-straight alliances is looking forward to the establishment of these clubs:
“Jouvon Evans, who facilitates Windsor Pride’s School’s Out program, mentoring about 15 high school students on how best to run gay-straight alliances, said interest is increasing with such clubs.
“She said Bill 13 will go a long way to helping reduce bullying and promoting self-confidence.
” ‘People know there’s a comfortable space where they can turn to,” Evans said. “And they can rely on the teachers and the administration.’
“Though Evans said there can sometimes be a temporary spike in bullying when gay-straight alliances are created, she said homophobia soon drops after such clubs are launched with the backing of the school.”
Knowing the benefits that such a club can provide, one has to wonder why all Catholic schools, in all of Canada and the U.S., too, don’t establish such clubs. Their presence in a school environment, where both homophobia and sexual identity questions run high, is a perfect way to enact Catholic teaching about the dignity of sexual minorities and about the need to eradicate prejudicial attitudes and behaviors. Let’s hope and pray that Ontario’s example will lead the way!
–Francis DeBernardo–New Ways Ministry
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