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 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.”
“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, 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