Gay Teenager on Catholic Policy: ‘Somebody Had to Say Something”

April 11, 2013

Liam Finnegan

A gay teenager in Canada’s Yukon province has successfully lobbied to have a document which describes homosexual orientation as “intrinsically disordered” and homosexual acts as “acts of grave depravity” to be removed from his Catholic high school’s website.

Liam Finnegan’s complaint arose when he read the document “Living with Hope, Ministering by Love, Teaching in Truth,” on the website of Vanier Catholic Secondary School, in the city of Whitehorse.  According to The National Post Finnegan, 16, observed:

“There were a few things in the document that were not homophobic and that made me think that maybe this isn’t such a terrible thing, since it said homosexuals shouldn’t be discriminated against, and I liked that part of it. But then as I continued reading the policy it veered into the ridiculous, describing homosexuality as an ‘intrinsically moral evil’ and saying that I was a ‘sinner’ and that I needed to be ‘healed.’ ”

“Somebody had to say something.”

So Finnegan, supported by his fellow students, started speaking out about the document, and his complaint eventually rose to the highest level of provincial government.  Xtra.com reports that Scott Kent, the provincial education minister eventually met with Bishop Gary Gordon of Whitehorse, and the bishop agreed to remove the document:

“ ‘Both [Kent] and the bishop could agree immediately that the most important thing was that students felt safe, welcome and protected in school,’ cabinet communications director Matthew Grant says. ‘The minister requested that an actual policy be developed around the particular issue in question, something developed on the grassroots level with students, parents and members of the school council.’ ”

Catholic schools in Canada receive government funding, and so are answerable to government policies concerning education. Xtra.com explains the church-state relationship and why the Catholic document needs to be re-thought to conform with government standards:

“[Grant] says that work needs to be done to bridge the gap between the religious document and the Department of Education’s policy on gender identity and sexual orientation. That policy, which was adopted in September 2012, requires schools to provide a safe and supportive environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, two-spirit, queer and questioning people.

“Grant confirms that the policy applies to all publicly funded schools, including the Catholic schools. With the exception of the French secondary school, Yukon does not have school boards. Instead, Yukon’s 28 public schools, which include three separate Catholic schools, are administered by the territorial government with the assistance of elected school councils, which advise the minister. Both public and Catholic schools in Yukon receive all their funding from the government.”

Congratulations to Mr. Finnegan for his successful campaign!  May we all follow his example of speaking up against injustice!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry

 


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


It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over

January 29, 2012

A New Ways Ministry friend from Ontario wrote  to say that our post yesterday about what to name GSAs in Canada’s Catholic state-funded schools may have left the impression that the controversy was over.

It’s not.

While the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association’s (OCSTA) debate about what to name the groups has ended, their decision still has to be reviewed by the Ontario’s Education Minister, Laurel Broten.   Broten’s initial response to OCSTA’s announcement was printed in an article on Xtra.ca:

“”We have set our expectations out clearly in the Accepting Schools Act. We have said that if requested by a student, every school and school board must support the establishment of a single-issue club to support students with a range of issues, including groups like a gay-straight alliance. This bill is still before the House and I hope that every member of the legislature will support the work we’re doing to make Ontario’s schools safe for every student.

“I understand the Catholic trustees have released a paper. And I’ll take a look at that paper. We are creating a law – an accepting school law – that will lay out expectations for every school in Ontario and their obligations around supporting all students.

“My expectation is that every board in this province will abide by our policies – policies that very clearly state that schools need to support student-led initiatives such a gay straight alliance.

“Boards may choose different approaches to meet that expectation, but all must work to the same goal: ensuring every student feels welcome, safe and supported in an environment free from discrimination and harassment.

“If requested by a student, the board must find a way to support the student. For example, the Ottawa Carleton DSB has a Rainbow coalition. This is not about the name but about what support is provided to students.”

So before the naming decision is finalized, it still has to be reviewed, a legislative battle looms, and, most likely court challenges will follow.

Meanwhile, the naming controversy has raised the issue of whether Catholic schools should be receiving government funding. Grant LaFleche in St. Catherines’ Standard opined:

“If anything, this entire ordeal shows that maybe it’s finally time to revisit the complicated political question of public funding for Catholic schools. The provincial government has guaranteed gay students in taxpayer funded schools they can have peer support groups (although they are allowing schools the right to name those groups). The association is trying to marry incompatible ideas — the rights of those students and the church’s view on homosexuality. Were these schools privately funded, it would not be an issue. But they are publicly funded. Which means tax dollars are going to be a measure of discrimination, even if that discrimination isn’t obvious at first glance.”

Chris Selley, in Canada’s National Post was a bit stronger.

“I didn’t think Queen’s Park [site of Ontario's government buildings] had the stomach for a fight with the Church on this matter, or most any other matter, beforehand. . . . I’ll leave it to gay students in the Catholic system to decide if clubs conducted under the OCSTA’s new policy would constitute an improvement. But politically, this smells to me like yet another attempt to be seen addressing a problem without angering a powerful stakeholder. And it illustrates yet again that when push comes to shove, publicly funded Catholic education, in Ontario, in 2012, makes very little sense at all.

Stay tuned.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry


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