Catholic School Student Told Not to Use Harvey Milk Quotation

February 2, 2014

In Ontario, Canada, there has been an ongoing struggle in state-funded Catholic schools to comply with a law there to allow gay-straight alliances (GSA) to form.   This controversy added a new wrinkle to it recently when a Catholic school in a Toronto suburb refused to allow a student to use a quote from gay-rights leader Harvey Milk on a poster for the GSA.

Christopher Karras holding an image of Harvey Milk

Student Christopher Karras, who attends École Secondaire Catholique Sainte-Famille, part of the Conseil Scolaire de District Catholique Centre-Sud (Catholic Central South District School Board) in Mississauga, chose a quote from Milk to advertise the existence of the newly-formed student organization.

DailyXtra.com reported:

“The Milk quote — ‘All young people, regardless of sexual orientation or identity, deserve a safe and supportive environment in which to achieve their full potential’ — has been deemed to be too controversial, according to an email Karas received from his vice-principal in October.

“ ‘I was told that I can’t have a picture of Harvey Milk or his quote on the posters,’ Karas says. ‘I also had “sexual orientation” written on the posters.’
“But Karas says vice-principal Vicki Marcotte told him to change that to ‘self-expression’ because ‘she felt it was too much about LGBT community and not inclusive of everyone.’ “
In an email, Marcotte said she would not allow the quote because it was “tendentious.”

Harvey Milk

Harvey Milk was the first openly-gay man elected to public office in California when he ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in the 1970s. He was assassinated by Dan White, another member of the Board of Supervisors.

The earlier controversy over establishing such clubs focused around the Catholic schools board’s wish not to name them “gay-straight alliances,” but “diversity clubs.”   The group in the Mississauga school is not labelled as a GSA, but is called “Porte Ouverte (Open Doors).”
Yet, the struggle for the group’s identity has not ended by simply changing the name.  Karras says there has been other intervention by the school administration.  According to DailyXtra.com:
” . . . he says the school is trying to prevent it from becoming ‘too focused on queer stuff.’
“Karas feels the board and school administrators are censoring and restricting the content of the group and making it difficult for the group to present itself as a GSA.
“Davina Smith, another of the group’s founders, says the posters have caused unnecessary friction between the group and the school’s administration.
“ ‘This gets on my nerves,’ she says, noting that the objection to the poster design gives the impression that the board is homophobic. ‘That’s the impression that I get . . . Harvey Milk is talking about giving youth hope. What’s wrong with that?’ “
Catholic school officials need to learn that opposing discussions of sexual orientation among students is not going to keep students from discussing these topics.  Furthermore, wouldn’t it have been nice if the vice-principal could have seen that what Harvey Milk’s quote was saying is really not very different from their own goals as a Catholic school?  Much education remains to be done.
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

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”

 

 

 


Canadian Catholic Schools Update LGBT Policy, But Not All Are Satisfied

September 16, 2013

Vanier Catholic High School

A Catholic school district in Canada has released a new draft policy on homosexuality, after controversy erupted in April at a high school there. The policy has pleased Church officials in the area and is acceptable to government officials, while others remain ambiguous on this latest action to make Catholic schools in that nation more LGBT-friendly.

In April, a gay teenager who was a student at Vanier Catholic Secondary School complained to the provincial government that the school’s document on LGBT issues was homophobic and violated civil law. Giving the state funding that Catholic schools in Canada receive, they must adhere to laws about non-discrimination and LGBT rights. Officially, the education minister in Yukon stated the document violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Yukon News reporters further:

“The new document, released for public review on Wednesday, would serve as a replacement for a former policy that called homosexuality a ‘disorder’ and an ‘intrinsic moral evil’ – words that echo the church’s official views on the matter…

“The controversial language found in the old policy is gone, although the new document still cites the same church documents that describe homosexual acts as sinful – the Catechism of the Catholic Church and a 1986 letter from the Church to its bishops are both listed as footnotes on the new policy.”

However, the new policy also speaks about the Church’s commitment to respecting the dignity of every person and implements a plan to ensure discrimination and hate crimes are dealt with in a timely manner.  This change comes after another gay student at Vanier Catholic was forced to use a locker with an anti-LGBT slur carved in it for two weeks in 2012. Anti-bullying measures are elucidated for staff, and students will now be allowed to form gay-straight alliances, which henceforth have been barred.

Not all find the policy a step forward, including Professor Kristopher Wells of the University of Alberta, who studies sexual minorities. CBC News reports:

“Wells says the Yukon Government already has a sexual identity and gender identity policy in place. He says a second policy creates two classes of personal rights.

” ‘So the question to ask is, would we do that to any other group of students? … For example, would we have a completely separate policy for Aboriginal students that limits their abilities and freedoms within schools? Really there can be no separate but equal. What this policy does is it creates an educational apartheid in our schools.’

“Wells says Vanier school adopting its own sexual orientation policy is a step in the wrong direction. He says policy must apply equally to all students in publicly funded schools, adding anything less is discriminatory.”

The policy will now go before the Whitehorse council for Catholic schools to be approved or reworked. In the meantime, it is likely that LGBT advocates will continuemaking Catholic schools in Canada more LGBT-friendly.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Toronto Catholic Educators Vote to Support Gay-Straight Alliances

May 25, 2013

Toronto Catholic School DistrictThe Toronto Catholic School District Board has turned down a proposal brought by two of its trustees to ban gay-straight alliances at the state-funded Catholic schools in that province.

The Toronto Star reports:

“Trustees voted 7 to 4 against a motion Thursday by trustee Garry Tanuan calling on the board to defy Ontario’s year-old Accepting Schools Act that says boards must let students set up gay-straight alliances (GSAs) if they wish. Tanuan’s motion, seconded by trustee John Del Grande, said gay-straight alliances ‘promote a positive view of homosexual activity, which undermines Catholic teaching on chastity and marriage.’ ”

But  students involved in a gay-straight alliance at a Catholic school says that the two trustees’ notion about what the student clubs do is incorrect:

“ ‘Gay-straight alliances and Catholicism are not mutually exclusive; they go hand in hand … and provide a safe space for those who need support,’ said student Jersey David from the gay-straight alliance at Mary Ward Catholic Secondary School. ‘Our discussions are about anti-bullying and inclusive language,’ and does not conflict with Catholic schools’ promotion of chastity, argued fellow student Erin Edgehill.

“Students from the gay-straight alliance club of Francis Liberman Catholic High School — which is called Bridges — noted they start each club meeting with a prayer and believe the Catholic faith extends to accepting those of different sexual identities.”

One of the trustees who voted to support the continuation of gay-straight alliances explained his position in terms of gospel inclusion:

‘Trustee Sal Piccininni said Catholic education must change with the times, and that he was always taught that ‘Jesus accepts everybody.’ He said he was proud of the students who defended GSAs at the meeting.”

The decisive defeat of the attempt to squash the GSAs is a victory for positive Catholic social teaching about non-discrimination.  GSA’s not only help LGBT students feel safer, but they help other students get over their ignorance and fear about sexual minorities. Catholic institutions should follow the Toronto Catholic District School Board’s example by instituting programs to eliminate bullying and end homophobia in young people.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


NEWS NOTES: May 23, 2013

May 23, 2013

NewsHere are some items that you might find of interest:

1) Tonight, two Toronto Catholic District School Board trustees are proposing to banish gay-straight alliances from Catholic schools in the city, reports The Globe and MailCatholic schools are funded by the Ontario provincial government, which last year required all schools to institute gay-straight alliances if a student makes a request.

2) An ultra-traditionalist French Catholic professor committed suicide by shooting himself in Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral after writing a blog post in which he lamented France’s new marriage equality law, according to The Independent.

3) The Czech Republic’s President Milos Zeman has refused to approve the appointment of a Catholic gay man to a professorship at the nation’s Charles University, Prague, reports Agence France PresseZeman explained that he refused to approve Martin C. Putna’s appointment because Putna marched at a gay-rights rally with a sign which contained an anti-gay slur.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 

 

 


Another Canadian Catholic Teen Speaks Out for Equality

April 18, 2013

In Canada it seems that Catholic school teenagers are leading the struggle for LGBT equality in church institutions.

Last week, we reported the case of an 11th-grader in Yukon province who successfully lobbied to have a bishops’ document removed from his Catholic high school’s website because it contained pastorally harmful terms to describe lesbian and gay people.

Halla Scott

This week, we have the case of a Saskatchewan 11th-grader who is trying to form a gay-straight alliance in her Catholic high school, but meeting with roadblocks from the administration.  Halla Scott, a student at LeBoldus High School, Regina, said that when she proposed the idea, she met with resistance.  The CBC.ca reports:

“She said a guidance counsellor suggested her idea might go against Catholic values.

” ‘It’s funny … the main Catholic value is to treat your neighbour as you want to be treated,’ she said. ‘If that’s true, wouldn’t you want to treat your LBGTQ [lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, queer] neighbour the same way as you’d like to be treated?’ “

“She said if the group got the green light to proceed, students would support it.

” ‘It would provide support to LGBTQ students in the school and also, you know, help squash some stereotypes that some people hold about students that identify that way,’ she said.”

If Scott succeeds, it will be the first gay-straight alliance in a Saskatchewan Catholic school.

One lesson to be learned from these stories is that the next generation of Catholics seem willing to continue to the struggle for LGBT equality in church institutions.  They have a lot more support in that struggle than previous generations have had, and may meet with much greater success.  The future looks bright.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


CAMPUS CHRONICLES: Catholic University Students Document Struggles of Campus Gay-Straight Alliance

September 16, 2012

A documentary about CUAllies, the unofficial gay-straight alliance at The Catholic University of America (CUA) in Washington, D.C., was released this week by two recent alumnae.

Andrea Mineo and Heidi Green, both class of 2012, released the short film originally created for a media studies course in April. Mineo’s and Green’s documentary is the latest in a series of student-produced films about CUAllies since students began seeking official recognition in 2009.

You can view the video here: 

The documentary captures the students’ ongoing struggle, noting the challenges of attending a religiously-affiliated university where official Church doctrine seems unsettled by a group of people or an idea. It highlights support from students at CUA for a recognized gay-straight alliance, many of whom believe CUAllies’ purpose aligns perfectly with the Catholic identity and mission of the University.

At present, CUAllies awaits a response on their proposal for official recogniton, submitted seven months ago. Provost James Brennan, who assumed charge of student life this fall, will make the final decision, which could be several months away. CUAllies is a student movement at Catholic University to create a safe, welcoming, and affirming environment on campus for LGBT students that does not presently exist.Previously, the Organization for Gay and Lesbian Rights was disbanded by former President Fr. David O’Connell for being ‘political’ in 2002 and sexual orientation was removed from the University’s non-discrimination clause in 2006.

Bondings 2.0 contacted the new leadership for comment on their vision and hopes for CUAllies this year, along with responses to the documentary.

CUAllies Communications Director Chelsea Schoen said: “The documentary was truly well-done and offered beautiful images of community, as well as demonstrated the wide array of support of our movement throughout campus. We are the same as any other student organization: a group of like-minded students seeking to share in fellowship and commonality….we are a group of students striving to create a safe and welcoming environment on campus, working as one to live out the virtue of love.”

CUAllies Deputy Director Travis Dichoso said: “I think this year I would like to focus on solidifying our mission and raising awareness of our mission. I would like to say that we are trying to take the approach of working with CUA’s administration rather than against it. We want to create a group which helps to integrate GLBT students into CUA’s community in a way that is respectful to the mission of the University.”

Speaker of the Student Government Ryan Fecteau, formerly a co-director of CUAllies, released the following statement: “The Student Association made a commitment to support our LGBT brothers and sisters last semester by approving a 20-3 resolution that encourages the administration’s approval of CUAllies. It is clear from my discussions with students on campus…that CUAllies embodies the spirit of our University’s mission. No one should be excluded and a community of love and safety should be fostered for all students. This is our obligation.”

The CUAllies Executive Board recently stated the only agenda of the group is love and safety, which will manifest itself in ‘community’ and ‘safety’ being the primary focuses for the 2012-13 academic year.

For further information, visit CUAllies Facebook page, Twitter account, and YouTube channel.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


Catholic School Board in Canada Allows Gay-Straight Alliances

August 21, 2012

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 Star reports:

“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.”

Dallas Mahaney

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.”

Adriana Unis and Jouvon Evans

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

Most recent  Bondings 2.0 posts on this topic:

June 14, 2012:  Follow-up on New Ontario Law Allowing GSAs in Catholic Schools

June 6, 2012:  Ontario Legislature Passes Gay-Straight Alliance Law Despite Catholic Pressure

May 26, 2012:  Majority Favors Gay-Straight Alliances in Ontario’s Catholic Schools

April 28, 2012:  Catholic Support for Gay-Straight Alliances: ‘It’s what our faith calls us to do.’

For additional articles on the topic, search the category “Canada” .


No Gay-Straight Alliance for DeSales University

August 14, 2012

DeSales University, a Catholic campus in Eastern Pennsylvania, is rejecting a request by an alumnus to start a gay-straight alliance (GSA) at the school.

According to the Upper Saucon Patch, Tim Gallagher, the alumnus, had circulated a petition on Change.orgafter several unsuccessful attempts to persuade the school’s administration to approve a GSA.  The petition states:

“Each student at DeSales University is told repeatedly to ‘be who you are and be that well’ [part of the school's motto] per the direction of St. Francis de Sales. This is a wonderful motto but currently excludes LGBT students and alumni. The university has repeatedly denied requests to allow a Gay Straight Alliance on campus and has even turned down an application for a PRIDE DSU club which sought to celebrate diversity on campus.Meanwhile, 16 Catholic Colleges in Pennsylvaniahave officially recognized pro-homosexual clubs, LGBTQ Resource Centers, or student organizations according to a recent poll.

“IT IS TIME that we stand up for our fellow bulldogs [school mascot] and allow each person to live out the Salesian motto and ‘Be who you are and be that well’ without threat of persecution or harassment.”

The petition came as a result of a campus incident where an anti-gay slur was written on a student’s dorm room door. Repeated earlier attempts to establish campus support networks for LGBT students had been rejected also.

In a follow-up Patch story, Dr. Jerry Joyce, DeSales’ vice president for student affairs, disputed the use of the campus’ motto to support the proposal for a GSA:

” ‘The full quote is “Let us be what we are and be that well, in order to bring honor to the Master Craftsman whose handiwork we are,” ‘ said Dr. Jerry Joyce, vice president for student affairs at DeSales. ‘Just like the quote says, if we are staying true to the teachings of the Catholic faith, it would be hypocritical to allow a club that would celebrate a LGBT lifestyle.’ “

With all due respect to Dr. Joyce, the quotation does not say anything about the teachings of the Catholic faith or LGBT persons.

According to Patch, Joyce said the campus decision to deny clubs for LGBT students had to do with the “exclusive” nature of such organizations:

“Joyce also confirmed a meeting with a member of the student body about forming a LGBT club, and again cited the exclusive nature of the club as the reason the student was denied.

” ‘The way [the group] was presenting themselves was as an exclusive club, and we don’t do exclusive groups at DeSales. We use student activity fees to fund [student organizations], which would mean students wouldn’t be able to get into a club they were paying for.’ “

It is puzzling to see the “exclusive” nature of a gay-straight alliance.  It’s very title and mission is inclusive.

Adrian Shanker, president of Equality Pennsylvania, commented in an op-ed on the DeSales controversy:

“. . .DeSales University is more interested in preserving an antiquated Church doctrine than they are in creating an inclusive campus community for the people they are hired to serve, their students — and what a message to send to current and prospective students.”

Gallagher explained his motivation for starting the petition to institute a GSA:

“I love DeSales, it’s an amazing university with fabulous faculty, staff, and students. But it’s time for DeSales to live up to it’s motto and help students thrive.”

New Ways Ministry supports the movement for a GSA on DeSales’ campus, and on all Catholic campuses.  We are happy and proud that our website’s gay-friendly college list has assisted Mr. Gallagher in his quest for such an organization.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


Ontario Legislature Passes Gay-Straight Alliance Law Despite Catholic Pressure

June 6, 2012

Bill 13, the legislation mandating that students be allowed to form gay-straight alliances in Ontario’s public and state-funded Catholic schools, was passed yesterday by the provincial legislature. The vote was 65-36.

The bill was controversial for several reasons, including that leaders of the state-funded Catholic schools did not want to call the student organizations “gay-straight alliances.”   As the Toronto Sun reports, however, notes that Laurel Broten, the provincial Education Minister, praised the support of Catholic teachers and staff. Broten said:

“I’m very, very pleased we had the support of Catholic teachers, Catholic support workers who work in our schools, families and students and student trustees in our Catholic schools.”

Indeed, in the Globe and Mail newspaper, the head of of the English-speaking Catholic teachers’ union supported the passage of the law:

“Kevin O’Dwyer, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, said his 43,000 members welcome the legislation, which passed third and final reading on Tuesday, because it allows schools to protect students from homophobia and other forms of discrimination.

“’ I think it’s going to be a positive experience for students to engage those clubs, whatever name they choose,’ Mr. O’Dwyer said in an interview.

“He is hoping that Catholic school trustees can overcome their objections to legislation that they argue contradicts church doctrine condemning homosexual activity.”

Dalton McGuinty

The Sun also noted Premier Dalton McGuinty’s comment that this is an issue which go beyond the limits of the desires of a particular religious group:

“There are values that transcend any one faith. . . .And if you talk to parents, they’ll tell you. They want their kids to be respected and accepted, they want their schools to be caring places, ideally we’d like to see them as a bit of an extension of the home in terms of the comfort level that our kids might enjoy inside their school.”

The news story went on to say that McGuinty

“believes that Catholic parents, teachers, principals will understand that the Accepting Schools Act is about building a cohesive society and preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation and other grounds.”

The debate about this legislation echoes much of the same debate currently happening in the U.S. over the question of religious liberty.   For example, the Canadian group, Campaign Life Coalition, are quoted in the Sun article stating:

“ ‘Dalton McGuinty and those MPPs who voted in favour of this legislation have declared war against faith communities and made all Canadians vulnerable,’ Mary Ellen Douglas, national organizer of Campaign Life Coalition, says in a statement. ‘They’ve now set a precedent which all Canadians should find alarming. The state interference in Catholic and public schools takes away fundamental rights and puts all Canadians at risk.’ ”

Yet, an editorial in The Ottawa Citizen, entitled “Why ‘gay’ matters,” takes a different perspective:

“Ontario’s Catholics have every right to teach whatever doctrine they want, using whatever words they want, in their homes and churches. But if they want to deliver public education, they must be prepared to acknowledge that some of their students are gay. . . .

“There has been disagreement, even within the gay community, about whether the name of a club matters, if the point is simply to teach kids to be tolerant and kind. But tolerance as an abstract policy means nothing in an environment where the very word ‘gay’ is only ever spoken as a whisper or a slur. If a school declares the word ‘gay’ to be off-limits for clubs, it’s hard to imagine how that school could be a safe place for a young gay student to have an open, respectful conversation with a teacher about the names the other kids are calling him.

“Catholics have the right to practise their religion as they see fit. And a child in a publicly funded Catholic school, who may or may not even be from a Catholic family, has a right to call himself or herself gay, to use the word openly and comfortably, without fear of reprisal. The right to speak the word is inseparable from the right to be free of persecution. ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ is a terrible message to send Ontario’s kids, especially when the whole idea of the legislation is to help kids feel more comfortable being themselves.”

And a scholar who studies the Canadian educational system offered the following insight in the Globe and Mail:

“Frank Peters, a professor at the University of Alberta and an expert in education policy, said the Catholic educational community has not been well served by this kind of forceful opposition. ‘I think there’s a fairly strong segment within the Catholic church who wonder just exactly how this is in contravention of Catholic teaching.’ ”

The threat of a court challenge means that we haven’t heard the end of this story yet.  But this decisive victory is a cause for celebration that Catholic values of acceptance, inclusion, and non-discrimination have been supported by lawmakers, even though some Catholic leaders worked to defeat these values.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

Related Bondings 2.0 posts:

May 26: Majority Favors Gay-Straight Alliances in Ontario’s Catholic Schools

April 28:  Catholic Support for Gay-Straight Alliances: ‘It’s what our faith calls    us to do.’

January 29:  It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over

January 28:  What’s In a Name?

December 22, 2011:  Silence Is Not Golden

December 2, 2011:  Abolish ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ in Ontario’s Catholic Schools


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