In Ontario, Catholic Teachers Pave the Way for LGBTQ Inclusion

Kevin portrait
Kevin Welbes Godin

Today’s post is by guest blogger Kevin Welbes Godin.

For the past four years, I have served as Equity and Diversity Coordinator at Egale Canada, a national LGBTIQ2S equality organization.  My work has primarily been with the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA), the world’s largest Catholic teachers’ union, helping them to better serve their LGBT students.

While the slogging is still tough in Catholic schools, definite gains are being made for LGBTQ youth.  Egale Canada has faithfully supported the training of Catholic teachers and has touted this service as “one of a kind” in the world.  Contrary to what some conservative Catholics may think, many members of the LGBTQ community have been supportive of the work Catholic teachers are doing to create safer and accepting schools for LGBTQ students.

Many Catholics, including myself, still expect our Catholic hierarchy to lead. After all, it is a bishop’s role to teach. Many educated, concerned Catholics have questioned local Catholic authorities as to why there is such a roaring silence that plays into structural homo/bi/transphobia in schools.  Perhaps Church overseers are choosing to be silent toward our LGBTQ brothers and sisters because they see the rest of us so willing to take the lead?  Even if unconsciously, I wonder if the spirit of Vatican II is swirling in the minds of episcopal gents as many Catholics refuse to let stubborn, rigid language and rules ruin and even take people’s lives?   It would be good to hear from our Bishop-teachers, though, right?   They still exercise the power when they choose to.

Ontario Catholic teachers have resoundingly told me that LGBTQ inclusion–creating safer schools and curriculum–is a priority.  OECTA members participated in Egale Canada’s “Every Teacher Project.”  Have a look at the report by clicking here.  This research tells a good story of where Catholic educators want the Catholic school system to move.  Here are some of the key findings:

What the classroom teacher sees as a need, doesn’t always get reflected as a priority for a  school board.

Religious schools are often assumed to be sites that are hostile to LGBTQ-inclusive education, but educators from Catholic schools were only slightly less likely to approve of LGBTQ-inclusive education (83% vs. 85% of respondents from secular schools), and slightly more likely to be opposed to it (6% vs. 4%). This suggests that the relationship between educators’ perspectives on the issue and the official perspectives of their schools is not a straightforward one.

Catholic teachers want to do the job of LGBTQ inclusion, but…

 Educators from Catholic schools were much less likely to feel comfortable discussing LGBTQ issues with their students (57%) than those from secular schools (76%), even though, as noted earlier, they were almost as likely to approve of LGBTQ-inclusive education (83% vs. 85%). This suggests that their discomfort has more to do with their school context than with their personal values.

Teachers know what they need and the kind of leadership necessary to support their work with LGBTQ inclusion.

 When asked why they did not practice LGBTQ-inclusive education, very few Catholic school educators cited their own religious beliefs. Their biggest reason for not practicing LGBTQ-inclusive education was insufficient training (29% vs. 17% from secular schools), followed by fear-based reasons concerning lack of leadership.

Even without leadership, Catholic teachers are boldly standing in solidarity with their LGBTQ students. Among their accomplishments:

Many Catholic schools have established Ontario’s legislated Gay-Straight Alliances (GSA).

Recently, I was invited to a Catholic high school assembly that openly proclaimed the need to be more inclusive of its LGBTQ students and staff.  While the chaplain prophetically spoke gospel truth to institutional power, students rallied and advocated for a school GSA, and the school administrators led the line in signing the rainbow flag.

Catholic student leaders keep the system accountable.

Across the province of Ontario, I’ve seen courageous student leaders, fueled by a deep passion, and tired of being invisible, raise their voices to challenge lackadaisical Catholic school boards. They urge these boards to support  LGBTQ students and keep them safe.  Catholic student trustees continue to make LGBTQ inclusion a priority on their school boards.

Many OECTA local units, especially the Toronto Secondary Unit, stand in solidarity with LGBTQ members.

Marching in Pride parades, advocating for LGBTQ member human rights, and speaking strongly to other Catholic partners all need to continue.  The time has arrived, and sitting on our hands and exercising a complicit silence can no longer be the norm if Catholic schools in Ontario are to viably speak to its students and teachers and remain authentic to the gospel mandate to love.

All sorts of resources and new social and cultural initiatives have been added to schools.

School libraries showcase books on diverse families (same-sex families). School hallways advertise pink shirt days and safe space initiatives.  A Catholic high school outside Toronto crowned Prom-Queens!  Rainbow flags are expressly being waved inside and outside schools.  These and more continue to be signs that LGBTQ inclusion is countering the nervous, nibbled-knee responses that have darkened the Spirit in the past.

Catholic teachers have recognized the “signs of the times” and are acting accordingly, and quickly, to support the dignity and well-being of LGBTQ students.  The problem is with those who wait, doing nothing,  while the suicide rate of LGBTQ youth is four times the average.  Gratitude is to those who take the prophetic, bold steps to seize the moment and stand with the most vulnerable.

Courage will still be needed to stand in the face of hate, and dignity will be needed to sway those who prefer a splintered community.   As we forge ahead, let us raise each other up, stand arm in arm, and wholehearted welcome the part of the Body of Christ that is LGBTQ.

Yes, the slogging still remains tough, but as Canadian singer Bruce Cockburn said, “nothing worth happening comes without some kind of fight.”  Continue on… there’s no turning back now.

–Kevin Welbes Godin

 

12 thoughts on “In Ontario, Catholic Teachers Pave the Way for LGBTQ Inclusion

  1. Barry Blackburn August 15, 2016 / 8:30 am

    Congratulations to Kevin Welbes Godin and Ontario’s Egale Canada’s report “Every Teacher Project” which speaks for LGBTQ students and their educators. In 1995 the Jesuit publication “The Moment” #26 published their journal issue in support of LGBTQ students called “In Search of Safety The Lives of Lesbian and Gay youth”. Ontario’s English Catholic Teacher’s Association has always, (in my memory) been supportive of both LGBTQ educators and students attempting both safety and dialogue in Ontario’s Catholic schools. Bravo for “Every Teacher Project” and for this wonderful presentation by Kevin Welbes Godin.

    • Michael Mulhall August 18, 2016 / 11:00 am

      I hope Kevin is able to get a copy of that issue of “The Moment” as many (if not most) of its run was confiscated and never distributed. The story of that particular issue is a thing in itself.

      • Barry Blackburn August 18, 2016 / 3:36 pm

        Michael, in my limited memory, the issue “In Search of Safety The Lives of Lesbian and Gay Youth’ from the Toronto Jesuit Justice and Peace office journal “The Moment” # 26 1995, ISSN 0838-8083 got wide distribution in the Toronto area and so much so that it sold out its run–their only issue to do so. There seems to have been enough requests for a second printing BUT (and there’s always a but!) pressure was put on the Jesuits to prohibit this second printing–from whom I’m not sure. The schools and the teacher’s union OECTA (Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association) promoted the issue and as I said it sold all copies. I used it in all my classes and the Religious Education superintendent spoke to my school encouraging the issue. I was very proud of this breakthrough. Alas, the next issue of the magazine was a justice map of Canada (I think) and that was the very last issue of the publication “The Moment” from the Toronto Jesuit Justice and Peace Office. 1995 was a breakthrough year!

      • Kevin August 19, 2016 / 3:11 pm

        Michael, of course I know of “that” issue of “The Moment.” I still have copies.

      • Michael Mulhall August 20, 2016 / 9:08 am

        I am glad you have copies. I had to get one from Mary Baier, as the one copy I had somehow got lost in my many moves. As a result of being called in for “questioning” and having my time in the diocese come to an abrupt end, I went to New Jersey and then to an inner city parish in Chicago – so my contact with what happened afterward ended. I believe that all the priests associated with that issue had similar experiences, but all individually. That is a story in itself. It is interesting to see the same topic arising elsewhere 20 years later, and to see how difficult it still is.

      • Kevin August 19, 2016 / 3:16 pm

        Barry, good to hear there was some distribution. It was not distributed in Dufferin-Peel DSB. The conversation about lgbtq was even much more hush in 95 than today. It’s sad to say, but I’m not sure how much more the institution of Catholic education in Ontario is willing to openly talk about lgbtq issues and safety for these students.

  2. Tom Bower August 15, 2016 / 8:57 am

    Roaring silence is the perfect description for the red hat crowd. Teachers as usual know how to lead in the care of children. God Bless them.

  3. Bishop Carlos A Florido, osf August 15, 2016 / 12:26 pm

    Great news!

  4. Steven August 16, 2016 / 2:51 am

    Great Work Kevin!
    The fight goes on,
    thing are getting better.
    thank you again

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