SYMPOSIUM: Bishop Stowe Brings Message of Admiration and Respect

It has been almost a month since New Ways Ministry’s Eighth National Symposium, “Justice and Mercy Shall Kiss:  LGBT Catholics in the Age of Pope Francis,” took place in Chicago. Things have finally slowed down enough that we are able to report on it to you.  Over the next few days, we will be providing several posts about symposium highlights.

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Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv., addresses the symposium while New Ways Ministry co-founder Sr. Jeannine Gramick listens.

Based on the response of the over 300 participants, one of those highlights was the presence and speaking participation of Bishop John Stowe, OFM, Conv., of Lexington, Kentucky.  Stowe provided two scriptural reflections at the meeting, one at the Friday evening opening prayer service (Matthew 12:1-14) and one at the Saturday morning prayer service (Luke 6:37-45).

The National Catholic Reporter’s  Patricia Lefevere interviewed Stowe at the meeting and reported on his talks.  She noted that he expressed his respect for LGBT Catholics and supporters for their steadfastness in remaining in the Church:

“Stowe said he is humbled by those who have pursued ‘a life of faith in a church that has not always welcomed or valued’ them or their worth. As a shepherd, he needs to hear their voices and take seriously their experience, he said, adding that both the presence and persistence of LGBT Catholics inspired him.

“They’ve shown ‘a valuable expression of mercy’ in calling the church ‘to be more inclusive and more Christ-like despite being given so many reasons to walk away,’ he said.”

Stowe also used his reflection time to discuss his approach to moral questions:

“In reflecting on Matthew 12:1-14, the bishop told the LGBT assembly that in his reading of Christian morality, he finds the infinite value of the human person to be ‘the touchstone and foundation for determining the morality of a given act or issue. Christian morality is more concerned with the well-being and dignity of the person than with rules, norms or commandments. Jesus seems to teach this on many occasions,’ Stowe said.”

In his interview with Lefevere,  the bishop also explained another motivation for his participation in the symposium:

” ‘New Ways Ministry made me want to come here,’ the bishop told NCR during a 40-minute interview at the gathering. He has been observing and admiring the group’s outreach to LGBT Catholics over several years, he added.”

Stowe also discussed the fact that when it became public that he would speak at New Ways Ministry’s event, some conservative Catholics in his diocese and elsewhere publicly criticized him:

” ‘The flack has been enormous and continues on the blogosphere’ and from ‘self-righteous strangers online and those who subscribe to these feeds,’ Stowe said, calling some of the posts and e-mails ‘vicious.’ . . .

“Among objectors, Stowe believes there are many who are sincere Catholics and are ‘really struggling’ with all the issues around homosexuality. He said he hopes and prays ‘for a culture of encounter’ to ensue so ‘we can become fully engaged with those who want to live the Catholic life and who love the Catholic Church. … Why would we want to turn our backs on them?’ he asked.”

The bishop also commented on his response to young Catholics who are often much more supportive of LGBT equality than older generations.  He noted that negative actions towards LGBT people risks alienating “a whole generation” of young Catholics.  He explained how he approaches this pastoral issue:

“Stowe said that on his many visits to confirmation classes, teens in his diocese ask: ‘Why can’t gay and lesbian people be themselves? Bishop Stowe, why can’t they love who they want?’

“He said he admires how well young people know that the church believes each person is of value. But they also know that LGBT persons are not always welcomed or treated fairly in the church, he said.

“He tries to acquaint them with church teaching on the dignity of each human being, citing passages in the 1965 Second Vatican Council document Gaudium et Spes (the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World) and other examples. He indicates how discrimination leads to dehumanization, frequently expressed in bullying, abuse, sometimes violence and even death.

” ‘We have to listen to our young people and pay attention to things like this,’ the bishop insisted.”

In introducing Bishop Stowe to the symposium participants, New Ways Ministry’s Executive Director Francis DeBernardo explained that he had heard the Franciscan bishop speak at a conference and was impressed with his message:

” ‘I couldn’t believe what I was hearing,’ DeBernardo said, comparing Stowe’s words to those of Pope Francis and to St. Francis of Assisi. All three men seemed to be saying that ‘it was the church’s job to take the Gospel to the margins,’ DeBernardo said.”

For a meeting whose title and theme focused on Pope Francis, it was very appropriate to have a bishop speaking who so aptly echoed many of the pontiff’s affirming messages for LGBT people.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 22, 2017

Newman University Recognizes LGBTQ Group; The Catholic University of America Holds Out

As another school year wraps up, students at Newman University, Wichita, Kansas,  are celebrating a new LGBTQ student group. Today’s post shares this story and an opposite one from The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C.  Both stories highlight the importance of such groups.

Newman University Welcomes LGBTQ Group

Facing student pressure, Newman University administrators approved an LGBTQ student group this spring.

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Ruben Lerma

Ruben Lerma led efforts for a recognized group at the school, which he decided to attend because it offered him generous financial aid despite his lack of U.S. citizenship. But being gay, Lerma was skeptical of attending a Catholic institution. The Witchita Eagle reported:

“He overheard other students on campus talk about how gay people should go to hell, he said, and how the legalization of gay marriage would lead gays to want to get married to animals. Some of his friends would point out other students on campus who, he was told, hated gay people.”

These experiences propelled Lerma to make a public speech his junior year, acknowledging that he was not the only gay person on campus and, “If for their sake, if not mine, you should make [the campus] more amiable, make the environment better.”

Student interest in an LGBTQ group spread quickly, building on existing alumni support and a more general overhaul on campus about how the school handles diversity.

In response to this pressure, administrators formed a committee to figure out how the school could better support LGBTQ students like Lerma. The Eagle reported that the committee, “which included nuns, priests, students, faculty, and administrators,” is modeled on the University of Notre Dame’s pastoral plan for LGBT students.

The plan, supported by Newman University staff, recognizes a new student group called Kaleidoscope. Student Adviser Ami Larrea, who helped form the group, explained the name:

“‘A kaleidoscope has all these different colors and shapes, but they somehow come together to make this really awesome picture and it’s beautiful even though it’s all different. . .That was important for us. We are LGBTQ, but we are different colors, different shapes and sizes, and it all looks great.'”

The plan, unfortunately, reveals the compromises which LGBTQ students are often required to make in more conservative Catholic environments. The Eagle reported:

“The Notre Dame-type model included language that emphasizes that the club cannot contradict the Catholic view that LGBTQ students should be ‘chaste,’ because sex is condoned only in marriage between a man and a woman.

“‘The University exhorts all to hear and live the Church’s teaching that ‘the deliberate use of the sexual faculty, for whatever reason, outside of marriage (between man and woman) is essentially contrary to its purpose’ and is considered gravely sinful,’ the plan reads.”

Dean of Student Affairs Levi Esses affirmed this mission, saying the group would be a “very supportive atmosphere” for students to remain celibate outside of heterosexual marriage. Nonetheless, students are celebrating the plan even with its compromises:

“Kevin Clack, who will be the group’s first student leader, said he doesn’t think the language in the pastoral plan means the group won’t be able to talk about dating and romance. But LGBTQ students have a lot of concerns, and Clack said he doesn’t expect the group to focus on sexuality more than any other group on campus, including the Black Student Union, of which he is also a member.

“Clack doesn’t agree with the language about what constitutes a true marriage but thinks compromise was necessary to get the group started.”

Catholic University of America Denies LGBTQ Group Again

Meanwhile, administrators at The Catholic University of America again denied students’ application for a recognized LGBTQ group, CUAllies.

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John Garvey

Speaking at a town hall with students, President John Garvey explained his rationale, according to campus newspaper The Tower:

“‘We’re not going to officially sponsor CUAllies. But that should not, I hope, be the measure of our support. . .We do not want to endorse a whole set of propositions that our culture insists on sexuality and gender. . .Neither do we want to ignore the needs of our gay and lesbian students. We ask all freshmen to take a pledge when coming here, we offer a counseling center, and Father Jude has a chaplet initiative.'”

Earlier this spring, the University hosted lesbian Catholic speaker Eve Tushnet who promotes celibacy for lesbian and gay people. In response, CUAllies President Carly Tomaine told The Tower that in keeping with Tushnet’s message about inclusion, “[The university] needs to publicly acknowledge [CUAllies] because no one wants to be pushed to the side.”

Administrators have rejected student and alumni requests for CUAllies to be recognized since 2008, leading one alumnus to publish a post on Buzzfeed recently titled “Reasons Queer Youth Should Not Attend Catholic University of America.”

Student demands at both Newman University and Catholic University make clear the importance of recognized LGBTQ student groups that act both as safe spaces and campus educators. Thankfully, more often than not, we report on Catholic institutions which are recognizing, not rejecting such groups.

This post is part of our “Campus Chronicles” series on Catholic higher education. You can read more stories by clicking “Campus Chronicles” in the Categories section to the right or by clicking here. For the latest updates on Catholic LGBT issues, subscribe to our blog in the upper right-hand corner of this page.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 21, 2017

 

 

Gay Teacher Harassed by Students Fired by Jesuit High School

A Catholic high school in Chicago has fired a gay teacher after students outed and harassed him for over a year.

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Matt Tedeschi

Matt Tedeschi taught religious studies and French at St. Ignatius College Prep, a Jesuit institution. Having taught for four years, he was up for tenure next year. But trouble began in February 2016 when a student discovered his profile on an online dating website. DNA Info reported:

“After discovering the dating profile, the St. Ignatius student texted screenshots of Tedeschi’s profile to several other St. Ignatius students, and it spread across campus.

” ‘He “outed” me to a bunch of students. He knew that he was making fun of me and insulting me,’ Tedeschi said. ‘He wanted to embarrass me.’ “

Tedeschi said he never expected students to find him on the website, which is for people age eighteen and older and which is used by other staff at St. Ignatius. He told DNA Info, “Everyone should have the right to a private life.”

Students continued to harass Tedeschi for over a year. One student tweeted against him sixteen times. The tweets include one that said, “Let’s not forget I have screenshots that can end you,” a reference to the screenshots of the teacher’s dating profile, one of which was included in the tweet. All of this created what Tedeschi described as “a horrible environment,” especially given the aforementioned tweet which he considers “public blackmail.”

Unfortunately, school administrators offered little support for Tedeschi. He informed them multiple times about students finding his dating profile and about their continued harassment. Just one student received two detentions for tweeting against Tedeschi. Principal Brianna Latko did little to stop what Tedeschi called a “culture of harassment.” He explained:

” ‘[School officials] were just watching it play out. . .I was having anxiety attacks before I went to class. It just completely undermined my authority as a teacher and made me feel small. … This unnecessarily pitted me against my students, which never should have been the case.’ “

This March, Tedeschi was informed that St. Ignatius would not be renewing his contract for the 2017-2018 school year. According to DNA Info:

“The school gave him the opportunity to finish out the school year, but after he discussed his departure with a colleague, the school called him to say that his employment was being terminated immediately. In exchange for the rest of his salary he would have earned over the semester, school administrators urged him to sign a non-disclosure agreement, but Tedeschi declined, he said.

“Tedeschi said he was told he was being fired because he showed poor judgment posting photos online and didn’t stop the classroom conversation involving the sensitive information. He said he was also told he was negative and undermined authority — although administrators declined to elaborate to him on these charges or provide further details in writing.”

Administrators will not comment on the firing or surrounding events. Spokesperson Ryan Bergin said confidentiality precluded any comment, but that Tedeschi was “treated fairly” and that school officials “wish him all the best.”

Though his sexual orientation was not explicitly referenced when he was fired, Tedeschi said the firing is really about him being forcibly outed by students as a gay man, his decision to seek an end to the harassment, and the school’s attempt to cover up an embarrassing incident. A colleague agreed that it was not Matt being gay which was the problem, but that his public outing violated the “hush-hush” attitude towards gay faculty and students and was “creating too much trouble.”

Tedeschi has released an open letter (see end of linked article) to the school community, in which he expressed gratitude for the school community. He is publicly telling his story of firing because “only by speaking truthfully and openly can our institution become a better version of itself.” He is now considering his legal options.

This firing is a tremendous loss. Students have lost a teacher who by all accounts was gifted and enthusiastic. Tedeschi was not supported by the administration against harrassment. St. Ignatius administrators’ decision to fire him is troubling for one more reason. It sends the message to offending students and the wider community that homophobia is implicitly acceptable because, in this case, it was the victim who was punished, not the harassers.

 —Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 19, 2017

 

CATHOLIC LGBT HISTORY: Boston Archdiocese Admits Lesbian Couple’s Child to Catholic School

“This Month in Catholic LGBT History” is Bondings 2.0’s  feature to educate readers of the rich history—positive and negative—that has taken place over the last four decades regarding Catholic LGBT equality issues.  We hope it will show people how far our Church has come, ways that it has regressed, and how far we still have to go.

Once a  month, Bondings 2.0 staff will produce a post on Catholic LGBT news events from the past 38 years.  We will comb through editions of Bondings 2.0’s predecessor: Bondings,  New Ways Ministry’s newsletter in paper format.   We began publishing Bondings in 1978. Unfortunately, because these newsletters are only archived in hard copies, we cannot link back to the primary sources in most cases. 

Boston Archdiocese Overrules Parish To Admit Lesbians’ Child to School

The list of  painful actions Catholic institutions have been taking against LGBT people is staggering. LGBT people are fired from church jobs.  LGBT people are denied sacraments or liturgical participation at funerals of family members.  And perhaps most emotionally painful action, children of LGBT people are denied entrance into Catholic schools.

But not all dioceses follow these practices regularly.   Some offer their acceptance quietly, but in one case, in May 2010, church officials protected  a lesbian couple after their son was initially denied admission to  a local Catholic school

Boston. com reported on May 13, 2010:

“The Archdiocese of Boston said yesterday that administrators of a small Catholic elementary school in Hingham were not following archdiocesan policy when they rescinded admission of a prospective student after learning that his parents are lesbians.

“Spokesman Terry Donilon said the archdiocese has no prohibition against same-sex couples sending their children to Catholic schools.”

The school involved  was St. Paul Elementary School, Hingham.

This Boston example was particularly important at the time because only two months before, in March 2010, the Archdiocese of Denver had upheld a local parish school’s decision not to admit a child to a pre-K class because the parents were a lesbian couple.  Bosont.com reported:

“In Boulder, Colo.,  in March a Catholic school refused to allow a student in prekindergartn to reenroll after discovering the child’s parents were lesbians.  Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput defended the decision, writing in the Denver Catholic Register newspaper that the church does not condemn gays and lesbians or their children, but does define marriage as a hetgerosexual union.  He said families with other views ‘have other, excellent options for education.’ “

Dr. Mary Grassa O’Neill

Dr. Mary Grassa O’Neill, the Archdiocese of Boston’s Secretary for Education & Superintendent, said in a statement about the case:

“The Archdiocese of boston is committed to providing quality Catholic education, grounded in academic excellence and the teachings of the Catholic Church to the students at all of our schools.   We believe that every parent who wishes to send their child to a Catholic school should have the opportunity to purse that dream.  . . . The Archdiocese does not prohibit children of same-sex parents from attending Catholic schools.  We will work in the coming weeks to develop a policy to eliminate any misunderstandings in the future. “

O’Neill went on to explain that she met  with the school’s pastor and principal, and that she also contacted the parents to let them know she would help them find another Catholic school in the Archdiocese for their child.

Fr. James Martin, SJ

At the time, the case also caught the attention of Jesuit Father James Martin, who has emerged as a strong voice for justice for LGBT people in the Catholic Church.  On May 17, 2010, Martin wrote in a blog post for America magazine:

“The archdiocese’s decision is not only pastoral, but sensible–even practical.  For how can one adequately determine if the parents of a child agree with all of Catholic teaching?  Or even ‘respect the beliefs’ of the church? Many of the parents in parochial schools in the U.S. aren’t even Catholic.  How many of them are divorced and remarried?  How many believe in everything that the church teaches on important matters?How many even know what the church teaches on important matters.  Likewise, how many funerals of less-than-devout Catholics are celebrated?  How many couples with little interest in the faith are married in Catholic churches?

“Singling out children of same-sex couples smacks of targeting one particular group.”

The Archdiocese of Boston did act wisely and pastorally in this case, and in the process, set a precedent for all other U.S. dioceses to follow.  With the expansion of marriage equality in the U.S. in 2015, more Catholic schools are going to be faced with similar situations, if they haven’t been already.  The Boston example provides an excellent rationale for other church leaders to follow.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, May 16, 2017

 

New Anti-Bullying Manual for Catholic Schools Is a Gift to the Church

A new manual for Catholic school teachers in England and Wales on how to combat homophobia and biphobia has caused a bit of a minor controversy based on its origin, perhaps because the document offers strong practical advice on how to stop and prevent bullying of sexual minority students.

The document, entitled “Made in God’s Image:  Challenging homophobic and biphobic bullying in Catholic Schools” was produced by the Catholic Education Service of the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, in partnership with St. Mary’s University, Twickenham.  The Catholic Herald reports, however, that some critics have questioned who contributed to the document:

“A covering letter accompanying the document, reported online, states the CES has ‘received funding to cover the printing and distribution of a hard copy for each school.’

“However, a spokesman said: ‘The document is a collaboration between the CES and St Mary’s and no external funding has been received for it.’ “

The critics said that portions of the document are very similar to anti-bullying materials produced by Stonewall and lgbtyouth Scotland, two leading UK LGBT equality organizations. Stonewall denied any involvement but said their materials are public and they’d be glad if their ideas were used by others.

What is most remarkable about this “controversy” is that the criticism seems intended to discredit what is a fine document on how to educate Catholic students about respecting gay, lesbian, and bisexual people.  Regardless of its source, the document explains its Catholic rationale very clearly.  Here are some excerpts from the first section:

“This guidance forms part of the commitment of the Catholic to the pastoral care of pupils and in particular the elimination of homophobic stereotyping and bullying for all children and young people educated in our Catholic schools. Its aim is to challenge all forms of homophobic and biphobic bullying in order to create safe spaces for pupils to come together to learn. . . .

“The intention of this guidance is to help our schools flourish as communities of loving respect where everyone is cherished as a person made in the ‘Image of God’. In April 19971 Cardinal Basil Hume wrote, ‘The Church recognises the dignity of all people and does not define or label them in terms of their sexual orientation. The pastor and counsellor must see all people, irrespective of their sexuality, as children of God and destined for eternal life. . . .

“Any systematic failure to respect that dignity needs to be tackled, if necessary by appropriate legislation. Nothing in the Church’s teaching can be said to support or sanction, even implicitly, the victimisation of anyone on the basis of his or her sexuality. Furthermore, ‘homophobia’ should have no place among Catholics. Catholic teaching on homosexuality is not founded on, and can never be used to justify ‘homophobic’ attitudes.”

And the document is clear that the material presented is based on Catholic social teaching. The following is an excerpt that descibes “inclusive education” as founded on Catholic social teaching:

“Inclusive education:  If we are serious about inclusive education in our Catholic schools then we must be concerned with the quest for equity for all who work within our communities. The social teaching of the Church and our participation within this teaching should be at the heart of what guides our work as a community. The well being of all – staff and pupils – requires the removal of any barriers of prejudice, discrimination and oppression if all are to strive and to realise our potential as unique and fulfilled human beings.

“What is Catholic Social Teaching? “The immediate purpose of the Church’s social doctrine is to propose the principles and values that can sustain a society worthy of the human person”. (Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church 580) Catholic Social Teaching calls us…

  • to be aware of injustice in our society and the wider world
  • to challenge and change our attitudes to take action to bring about a more just society and
  • to be aware of injustice in our society and the wider world
  • to challenge and change our attitudes
  • to take action to bring about a more just society and world”

The bulk of the document presents eight detailed lesson plans that teachers can use to address bullying against gay, lesbian, and bisexual students, within an authentic Catholic context. Though transgender people are not mentioned in the general sections of this document, bullying against them is mentioned briefly in the lesson plan section.  More discussion of transphobia could have improved this document.

The Catholic “frame” and material conained in these lesson plans make it difficult to understand why critics would suggest that it was too heavily influenced by secular sources.  And what would be the problem if secular sources were used?  The Church as always learned from knowledge developed in the secular world.  Why should such learning be a problem in this case?

The document points out the need teachers have for guidance on bullying:

“Very few teachers in primary schools (8%) or secondary schools (17%) say they have received specific training on tackling homophobic bullying.

“Three in ten secondary school teachers (29%) and two in five primary school teachers (37%) don’t know if they are allowed to teach lesbian, gay and bisexual issues. . . .

“Scheider and Dimito (2008) found that 68% of teachers did not feel enough resources were present in schools to deal with issues on sexual orientation. 60% of teachers interviewed did not feel they had appropriate training and 56% of teachers believed parents would protest if sexual orientation or gender identity were raised at school.

“For teachers working in church school contexts there can be a hesitancy in addressing or challenging issues related to sexual orientation. It can be wrongly assumed that, for teachers working in a church school, there is a tension between a strongly held religious belief and equality and respectful treatment for gay people. As the St Mary’s University survey shows . . . many of our Catholic schools toned support in approaching issues relating to sexual orientation and, indeed, to respond to issues of homophobic bullying.”

Clearly, this document addresses an important need.  While there are certain sections in it that apply to UK law and policy regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, the bulk of this document, especially the lesson plans, can be useful for Catholic school teachers in almost every location.

If you work in a Catholic education or youth ministry, or if you are someone who is concerned generally about bullying, you should read the entire document by clicking here.  Made In God’s Image is a great gift to Catholic education!

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, May 14, 2017

 

Scottish School Apology Is a Model for the Church

In Scotland, a Catholic secondary school official responded in an extremely appropriate and effective way when anti-gay leaflets were discovered on campus:  he apologized to the students.

Glasgow’s Herald newspaper reported that when Stephen Phee, the Head teacher (chief administrator) at St. Mungo’s school, Falkirk, was informed of the leaflets’ existence by the student who discovered them, he immediately offered an apology. The student, Aidan Callaghan, said:

“Mr. Phee apologised straight away and said they shouldn’t have been there, and he would investigate how they got there.”

St. Mungo High School

The fliers, which were published by an organization called “The Catholic Truth Society,” were immediately removed from the school.  Entitled “The Church and same-sex attraction,” the tract used terms like “deep-seated tendencies” and “acts of grave depravity” to discuss, respectively, homosexual orientation and gay sex.”  These terms are often used in Catholic magisterial writing. Why is an apology such an appropriate and effective response in this case?  Because it signaled to the students that the administration sees part of its role as protecting LGBT people from harrassment,

Why is an apology such an appropriate and effective response in this case?  Because it signaled to the students that the administration sees part of its role as protecting LGBT people from harassment.  That is a task that every Catholic institution administrator should consider as part of the job description.

Scottish LGBT advocates noted how important it is for the school to respond strongly to this situation. The Herald reported that Cara Spence, Senior Programmes Manager at LGBT Youth Scotland, explained:

 “[These] messages are deeply damaging to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender learners and could have a long-term impact on a young person’s confidence and their ability to talk to others about how they feel.”

With a positive response like Phee’s, it’s not surprising that Callahan, the student who found the fliers, noted that the school’s atmosphere is an accepting one.  He stated:

“Homophobia isn’t an issue at our school, so I was really surprised to see something like this.”

Last June, Pope Francis had called on church leaders to apologize to lesbian and gay people for the ill-treatment they have received from religious institutions.  Few leaders have done so, which makes the school administrator’s statement all the more remarkable.

The spirit of apology seems to be infused in Scotland lately.   The theological forum of the Church of Scotland (the established Presbyterian church) has announced that it will ask the General Assembly of the denomination meeting this month to offer an apology to lesbian and gay people.  A report issued by the forum stated:

“We recognise that as a Church we have often failed to recognise and protect the identity and Christian vocation of gay people and believe that the Church as a whole should acknowledge its faults.”

Let us pray that this action from the Church of Scotland will inspire other Christian churches to follow suit.  And let us pray that the action of this Scottish Roman Catholic school official will spark other Catholic officials to begin the process of reconciliation with the LGBT community by offering their own apologies.

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, May 11, 2017

 

Catholic Schools in Ontario Cancel Children’s Play on Gender Identity

Catholic schools in Ontario, Canada have canceled scheduled performances of a play because of concerns that its protagonist is a small child who explores gender boundaries.

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Photo of a “Boys, Girls, and Other Mythological Creatures” performance

Carousel Players, the theater company behind the play, announced the cancellations of “Boys, Girls, And Other Mythological Creatures.” According to Global Newsthe play “tells the story of 8-year-old Simon, who dreams of becoming a princess and feels boxed in gender stereotypes.”

Parents’ complaints about the content led the Niagara Catholic District School Board to cancel the show on the grounds that the play was “not age-appropriate” and students would not understand the issues it raises. The Board claimed Carousel Players did not include information in its promotional materials that the play was about gender identity.

Yet, CBC Radio reported the play, targeted at elementary age children, “was created in conjunction with representatives from several Ontario school boards to be in line with the province’s new sex-ed curriculum.” The Players were explicit in marketing their performance as such.

Not everyone is convinced the cancellations happened due to concerns over students’ ages. Jessica Carmichael, the artistic director for Carousel Players, released a statement which said, in part:

“I fear these cancellations may be based on misinformation, grown out of fear, intolerance, transphobia, homophobia and misogyny. . .The core message from the main character, Simon(e), in Boys, Girls, And Other Mythological Creatures, is that every child needs the support of friends and family no matter who they are, what they dress like, what toys they like to play with and what they imagine they can be. I wholeheartedly believe in this message.”

Carmichael further said the play has been well received when performed at other schools, where staff are “encouraging children to have conversations which promote acceptance” and where the magic of live theater “brings people together to work towards a better today and tomorrow and it encourages discussion.”

The Carousel Players have since staged a free performance, followed by a question and answer period so anyone in the local community who wished to view the play could do so.

Having not seen “Boys, Girls, And Other Mythological Creatures” myself, I cannot comment on the play’s contents, and whether it would be appropriate for elementary age children. But school officials should be aware that even young children are already grappling with questions about gender. Many trans individuals claim they had a consciousness about their identities as young as five or six years of age.

Whether through the Carousel Players or some other means, Catholic schools in Ontario and elsewhere should be addressing issues of gender identity as an essential aspect of their commitment to students’ flourishing.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, May 8, 2017