Ontario Catholic Schools Trustee Is Chastised for LGBT Support

October 5, 2013

A trustee of the  Waterloo Catholic District School Board in Ontario, Canada, has been punished by his colleagues, in part because of his support for LGBT youth and the establishment of gay-straight alliances (GSA) in the religious institutions.

Anthony Piscitelli

Anthony Piscitelli

Anthony Piscitelli is not allowed to attend special committee meetings, though he can attend general board meetings.  This punishment was enacted because board members felt he violated principles in an op-ed that he recently published on Pope Francis’ new openness to LGBT issues and how that relates to Catholic education.  The Record newspaper reported:

“Trustees agreed that fellow trustee Anthony Piscitelli made misleading and inaccurate statements in an opinion piece in The Record last week when he said non-Catholic students are not allowed to attend Catholic elementary schools.

“Only two trustees — Janek Jagiellowicz and Joyce Anderson — supported Piscitelli on Thursday by voting against the motion, which came as an initial complaint by trustee Peter Reitmeier. . . .

“Reitmeier said Piscitelli’s article, which also referred to gay-straight alliances in Catholic schools and how more needs to be done to support gay and lesbian youth, was ‘undignified, unprofessional or contrary to the preservation and promotion of Catholic values and teachings.’

“Reitmeier said Piscitelli was inaccurate when he wrote that ‘the Ontario Catholic school system was slow to adopt reforms aimed at improving circumstances for gay and lesbian students.’ “

In the op-ed, Piscitelli discussed how statistics show strong support for same-sex marriage among Canadian Catholics, and so it would be likely to assume that they also support GSAs.  Yet, he pointed out:

“Last year, for example, the Ontario Catholic Trustees association aggressively fought the provincial government’s attempts to ensure that gay-straight alliances were available as a student support for every student in this province.

“Instead of fighting gay-straight alliances, school board leaders should have been focused on finding a way to make them work within a Catholic context. The church’s emphasis on loving one another should have made this easy to do.”

In regard to  his claim that non-Catholic students are not allowed to attend Catholic elementary schools, Piscitelli stated that he made a technical error:

“Piscitelli agreed that he made a minor technical error and apologized for saying non-Catholics are not allowed in the system. However, he did not agree that he had violated the code of conduct.

” ‘I am sorry for any misperception this may have caused in the community,’ he said.”

In fact, allowing non-Catholic students to attend the schools is a complicated matter, reported The Record:

“Waterloo Catholic District School Board policy allows non-Catholic students to attend elementary schools if permission is granted by the education director. There are currently 80 non-Catholic students in elementary schools.

“At least one parent must be Catholic or the child must be baptized in the faith to attend elementary school. Catholic high schools are open to all students, regardless of faith.”

Piscitelli did not back down from his support for GSAs and LGBT people.  According to The Record, :

“I will continue to argue that we need to do more to ensure that our gay and lesbian staff are comfortable being open about their sexuality in our schools . . . because I believe they are the areas where we are failing as a Catholic school system.”

Catholic schools here in the United States need a voice like Piscitelli, who is willing to speak out for justice and equality for LGBT staff and students.

Meanwhile, The Windsor Star reported that Catholic schools in Ontario still are calling the provincially-mandated GSAs “social justice equity clubs,”  so that they do not have to use the word “gay.”  Catholic schools in Ontario receive government funding, and so are subject to provincial laws.

The identity of these clubs was highlighted recently by a study which points out that schools which have GSAs in them report significantly less binge-drinking among students.  CBC.ca reported:

“In schools with gay-straight alliance clubs, heterosexual teen boys are 45 per cent less likely to have had an episode of binge drinking in the past month. Heterosexual teen girls are 62 per cent less likely to binge drink.

“It benefits LGBTQ students too. Lesbian students, for example, are 50 per cent less likely to drink five or fewer drinks at one time.”

A prominent LGBT Canadian activist explained the importance of the student organizations having a more accurate, specific name:

Deirdre PIke

Deirdre PIke

“Deirdre Pike, a Hamilton LGBTQ activist, was vocal last year about  the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board’s refusal to allow issue-specific gay-straight clubs.

“This is evidence that they benefit all students, she said. And it’s another reason why the Catholic board needs to reconsider its practice of only allowing generic anti-bullying clubs.

” ‘The Catholic school board really needs to pick up the pace and the integrity in terms of naming these groups, and be intentional about naming them for what they are,’ she said. ‘ “Diversity club” is not going to cut it.’ “

Catholic schools in the United States can learn a lot from the courage of Anthony Piscitelli and the Canadian experience about how to establish welcoming environments.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related article:

Cambridge Times: Catholic board trustee broke policies – banned from special committee meetings”

 

 

 


Catholic Support for Gay-Straight Alliances: ‘It’s what our faith calls us to do.’

April 28, 2012

In two separate stories, Catholics in Ontario, Canada, are speaking out for the adoption of gay-straight alliances (GSA) in the province’s schools. Ontario’s legislature is currently debating Bill 13, a bill which, among other things, is designed to deter bullying and calls school boards to “support pupils who want to establish and lead (…) 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.”

In one story, a Catholic school board trustee in Waterloo, Ontario, is calling on on the Catholic board to allow gay-straight alliances. In the other story, a group of  Ontario Catholics has mounted a petition at Change.org to support Bill 13.

An article on Xtra.ca, a Canadian LGBT news source,  notes that Bill 13 is being hotly debated by legislative representatives, and that part of the controversy revolves around whether to call the student groups “gay-straight alliances” (GSA) or to refer to them by other names.   Officials from state-funded Catholic schools oppose calling them “GSAs.”

Anthony Piscitelli

Yet Anthony Piscitelli, Catholic school board trustee in Waterloo, Ontario, has stepped forward in support of establishing GSAs in Catholic schools.  The Record, a newspaper in the Kitchener/Waterloo region reports:

“Catholic schools need to go further in making gay and lesbian students feel welcome in their schools, says a Catholic school trustee.

“Anthony Piscitelli wants the board to allow for gay-straight alliance groups in Catholic schools and he’s hoping his fellow trustees will back him up.

Janek Jagiellowicz

“So far, trustee Janek Jagiellowicz says he supports the idea but he’s been asked by the board chairperson to not speak about it publicly until if comes before trustees Monday night.

“Piscitelli said it’s morally right to support his motion. ‘If you look at how we can best support the students in the system, it’s very hard to vote against GSAs in schools,’ he said.

“ ‘Focusing on doing what’s best for the kids, this is morally right,’ said Piscitelli. ‘It’s what our faith calls us to do.’ ”

Piscitelli and Jagiellowicz are not the only Catholics who support the measure. A group of Catholics in Ontario have launched a Change.org petition in favor of Bill 13. The petition, which can be accessed by clicking here, explains that this campaign began when a young Catholic who identifies as an LGBT person was stunned to learn that her local parish was collecting signatures against the measure.  The petition states:

“We started this petition in support of Bill 13 to show the student and other LGBT youth that we (who are also Catholics) recognize their right to be respected and accepted as they are. We also believe that avoiding the word “gay” in schools provides the youth with a harmful message: message of shame and non-acceptance.”

An article in Canada’s National Post   notes that while Catholic officials oppose Bill 13, the proposed law has been endorsed by Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association.

Previous Bondings 2.0 posts about Catholic involvement in the GSA controversy can be found by clicking “Canada” in the “Categories” section of the column to the right →.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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