In Ontario, Canada, Catholic schools receive public funding, so it is easy for there to be a morass of entanglement when the interests of government and religion conflict. Over the past year, a debate percolated in the press and legislature about the idea of requiring Catholic schools to establish gay-straight alliances for students. The requirement has become law, but with a compromise that allows Catholic schools to call these student organizations “equity clubs,” instead of “gay-straight” alliances.
The Globe and Mail, an influential Canadian newspaper has editorialized that this compromise defeats the purpose of the new law. The paper offers a powerful and poignant reason why:
“To be made nameless is not a small thing. It is to be told that some shame is associated with who you are. The clubs can exist but, depending on how the Catholic schools react, perhaps only in the closet, a place of shame.”
The editorial likens this compromise to another historic compromise on gay issues, which was recently repealed in the United States:
“It is similar to president Bill Clinton’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” law of 1993, now repealed, under which homosexuals were allowed in the U.S. military, as long as they didn’t breathe a whisper of it. That put gay and lesbian soldiers in a terrible position – vulnerable to expulsion, and still treated as if they needed to hide who they are.”
While conceding that the Catholic schools have a right to their religious beliefs, the editorial challenges them to a higher standard:
“The Catholic schools have the right to their beliefs about homosexuality. But they are public schools and they do not have the right to insist on a second-class status for students who identify as homosexual, or who simply have questions about their identity, or who have gay or lesbian parents. They need to try a little harder to make religious belief and equality work together.”
It’s sad that these schools have to be reminded of this challenge. The Catholic tradition itself calls these institutions to the higher standard of defending the dignity of every human life. The Catholic schools of Ontario should be doing a lot more for LGBT students, and having their reality named in the organizations that are designed to support them is just the beginning.
The Globe and Mail editorial highlights the reason why this issue is so critical:
“This is not an abstract issue. It is difficult to be gay in high school, and gay teens suffer from depression, and depression is a factor in suicide. If Ontario truly wishes to defend those vulnerable to bullying, it should do so wholeheartedly. The best answer is to promote acceptance, and require it from those who refuse to give it.”
Catholic leaders seem slow to learn that discrimination and silencing are life and death issues. They could learn a lot from the political leaders of Canada. Another article in The Globe and Mail describes what these government leaders are doing in the wake of suicides caused by bullying. What are Catholic leaders doing?
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry