Transgender Education Policies Face Catholic Opposition in Canada, U.S.

November 4, 2015

Edmonton Catholic School Board meeting in September

Policies designed to protect transgender students are facing Catholic opposition in regions of Canada and the U.S. Though some school leaders have failed to prioritize students’ well-being, important progress is being made nevertheless.

Below, Bondings 2.0 offers stories revealing Catholics’ differing responses when it comes to transgender youth inclusion in schools.

Edmonton’s Catholic Schools

The Edmonton Catholic School Board in Alberta, Canada, passed a first reading of a policy which would allow students to self-identify their genders and therefore use corresponding bathrooms and/or participate on athletic teams according to their self-identification.

Consideration of such a change emerged after a 7-year-old girl sought to use the girls’ bathroom at her Catholic primary school but was forced to use a gender-neutral one instead. A September meeting regarding the proposed policy erupted into shouting and tears, and no vote was called as a result.

The Edmonton Catholic School Board’s ongoing failure to prioritize students’ interests or even maintain decorum has cast doubt on its abilities in the eyes of many, including the province’s Education Minister David Eggen. [Because Catholic schools in Canada are funded by local provinces, their governing boards are answerable to provincial officials.]

Eggen expressed his lack of confidence in the Catholic school leaders to Metro News. He hired facilitator David Cummings to, in the minister’s words, help members to “collectively and individually to improve their governance skills.” The minister also reminded all involved that he had power to dissolve the Board, which would be “a step that I must take seriously and I hope Edmonton Catholic takes seriously.”

Beyond the Board’s general dysfunction, critics have highlighted remarks by Trustee Larry Kowalczyk as especially harmful. The sole vote against the drafted policy, Kowalczyk has also claimed that trans people have a “mental disorder” and erroneously argued that transitioning contradicts church teaching, reported the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Kowalczyk further called LGBT advocates “God-hating activists,” according to the Edmonton Sunwhich quoted Minister Eggen’s response:

” ‘We all saw some of the individual comments that still spoke to a lack of education around transgender issues and equality in general and certainly we know, and Mr. Cummings saw it in living colour, just how quickly things break down into animosity with this specific board. . .It’s very important that people respect each others opinions but also don’t overstep and start to just simply misrepresent both science and the letter of the law.’ “

Directly contradicting Kowalczyk’s assertion that the Board should be loyal to Archbishop Richard Smith rather than the provincial government, Eggen said there was “a misrepresentation between who carries the law here in the province of Alberta.”

LGBT advocates and parents are also concerned that the Edmonton Catholic School Board will not be able to protect students sufficiently. Transgender parent Marni Panas told CBC:

” ‘I don’t think there are people that are on this board that are even capable, practically not even willing, to create safe environments for these students. . .Clearly the minister has to step in and take some responsibility for this.

” ‘Every day that we’re waiting without a policy, a child is getting hurt, a child is hurting. . .This doesn’t really help that child feel any better.’ “

Kris Wells, a faculty member with the University of Alberta’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies, questioned whether the proposed policy around which such controversy has erupted is even progress. Telling CBC it receives a “C” grade at most, he continued:
 ” ‘It really meets a minimal standard, it’s not inspiring, it’s not comprehensive. . .It’s really a disappointment and a letdown for a board that actually promised to do the work.”
Wells cited the policy’s failure to grant students a right to gay-straight alliances, a lack of protections for LGBTQ staff, and no accountability measures for the Board. Noting the significant discrimination and harm trans youth face, Wells wrote in the Edmonton Journal that each day the proposed policy is delayed, LGBTQ students are at risk. He said, in part:
 “Clearly, many school boards across Alberta have actively resisted and failed in their duties to protect LGBTQ students and teachers from irreparable harm. . .Every day we are without provincial policies and guidelines is another day LGBTQ students and teachers remain at risk. I hope it will not take a tragedy for our government to end all forms of discrimination in our schools. This is no longer a matter of opinion, but an expectation of law, and a moral imperative of our new government.”
Wells also claimed the district’s superintendent, Joan Carr, threatened his job by writing to Wells’ then-supervisor about “relentless” tweets and “disparaging comments.” This email was an effort, in Well’s view, “to silence me and have me dismissed from my job.”  Wells had initially offered suggestions as the policy was drafted, but was barred formally though he continued commenting publicly as an academic according to Metro News.
A second reading of the policy is scheduled for November 24 after a public review period, at which time this policy will hopefully be approved. For a Q & A about relevant Edmonton school policies, check out a primer from the Edmonton Journal by clicking here.
Saskatchewan Catholic Schools
Unlike Edmonton where Catholic leadership is resisting inclusive policies, church schools in Saskatchewan are advancing supports for LGBT students. Progress, particularly when it comes to gay-straight alliances and transgender protections, even comes with the bishop’s blessing and expands existing efforts. These efforts include teacher trainings and non-binding directives about gay and lesbian students from the Saskatchewan Catholic School Boards Association.

Though local politics have stalled passage of laws similar to those in Ontario and Alberta which mandate gay-straight alliances if requested by students or parents, Brett Salkeld of the Archdiocese of Regina admitted to The Star Phoenix:

” ‘We know it’s coming. We know we’re going to get requests in our schools. Our people have been working on this well in advance. . .We don’t want to be at the centre of a public controversy.’ “

Bishop Don Bolen of Saskatoon said church leaders sought to respond to students’ needs by offering guidelines that will detail how to handle student requests for LGBT groups and answer questions gender identity. He explained further:

” ‘Life is messy. Neither the church’s teaching or GSAs in isolation are going to avoid that messiness of life.’ “

Education Minister Don Morgan is pleased with church leaders’ attitudes, suggesting that legislation is unnecessary as long as all schools comply with existing policies to ensure LGBT students are supported.


Further south in Nebraska, the state’s Catholic Conference, in conjunction with other conservative groups, has asked the Nebraska School Activities Association to draft a policy on transgender students in athletics. The desired policy, reported Crux, would deny students’ gender identity and mandate participation according to assigned sex at birth. A policy may emerge as early as this month.

Progress is Needed

Returning to the Edmonton debate, Dr. Lorne Warneke of the University of Alberta advocated powerfully about the need to protect transgender students everywhere. As a psychiatrist specializing in gender, she wrote in the Edmonton Journal about the damaging impact that stigmatizing gender identities can have:

“Not allowing a child to express their true gender identity dampens a child’s spirit. This leads to internalized shame and guilt for being who they are, and to poor self-esteem and a negative self-concept. By adolescence, if forced to lead a life of a lie, this can lead to drug/alcohol abuse, isolation, school dropout, self-injury and suicide attempts. This is unforgivable, particularly if it happens in the context of religious dogma.”

Alternatively, supporting a student in expressing their authentic gender identity leads to better happiness, self-confidence, and school performance and more broadly promotes diversity which, Warneke said, strengthens society. Albertans should “be proud” that their province is generally supportive of LGBT communities, but the psychiatrist continued:

“Everyone has the right to their own religious beliefs of course, but such beliefs should not be imposed on others against their will. . .In in the same vein, Edmonton’s Catholic board is publicly funded to provide education to students, not to act as a church. . .It is sad that organizations where greater understanding and acceptance should be expected instead take the stance of being stigmatizing and rejecting.”


In September, when the Edmonton debate began, I commented on the situation, noting that Catholic leaders must discern and enact policies which meet every student’s needs, welcome all into safe spaces where education can occur, and cherish each young person as a child of God.  The same is true in these current debates.

Making harsh statements, challenging governmental authority, and spreading transphobic misinformation do the opposite. It should not take government intervention for church leaders to act with basic dignity and respect towards any student. Their response should come from being Christians, rooted in the Gospel, called to seek the common good of all people.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Transgender Policy in Jeopardy After Delayed Vote By Catholic School Board

September 19, 2015

Catholic school leaders in Canada failed to approve a policy which would allow students to self-identify their gender, frustrating hopes of positive change and earning stern criticism from the Education Minister. The Edmonton Journal reported:

“Edmonton Catholic Schools trustees moved during the Tuesday night meeting to delay voting on the motion about the transgender policy until its next meeting in October, after several raised questions about its purpose and development.

“The majority of the board’s first meeting of the year was devoted to arguing over the policy, which could give students access to the washrooms, change rooms and sports teams that match their gender identities.”

That meeting devolved into a “shouting match” and then a delayed vote, which the policy’s sponsor, Patricia Grell, has called “very unfortunate.” She expressed concern for the well being of a female elementary student whose inability to use a bathroom consistent with her identity prompted the draft policy.

Three trustees worked with parents, trans advocates, and mental health professionals to craft the proposal. While Edmonton’s Catholic schools promise to provide an “inclusive, welcoming, caring, respectful, safe, and Catholic environment that promotes the well-being of all,” those involved say this new policy is quite necessary.  Because Canada’s Catholic schools are funded by the government, political officials become involved in decisions made by local governing school boards.

Its necessity is also endorsed by a high ranking government official. Education Minister David Eggen chastised the board for its failure to pass a transgender inclusive policy, and threatened action against them:

“What is a sensitive, important issue in regards to human rights broke and dissolved into acrimony, and I don’t expect that I will see that again. If it does so, there will be consequences. . .This has to be dealt with as soon as possible.”

This acrimony arose from the trustees who opposed to the policy, including Larry Kowalczyk who mistakenly said that Catholic teaching treats transgender identities as mental illness.  Kowalczyk previously voted against child protection efforts in April. The behavior of these trustees prompts doubts about their leadership, like those of Marni Panas, a transgender Catholic and mother of children in Edmonton Catholic schools, who told the Edmonton Sun:

“You expect a certain level of professionalism and decorum from your elected officials, and what I saw that night, I’d never seen anything like that. . .I think that shocked everybody, including myself. I question this trustee’s ability to provide a safe place for students.”

Pressure is mounting on the board to take action in the best interests of transgender students and, in the meantime, it seems school communities will continue growing in their acceptance. Former Education Minister Thomas A. Lukaszuk wrote of these themes for the Edmonton Sun:

“I don’t doubt that the Board may have the best intentions, but appears to be lacking in resolve to conclude this matter. . .In the mean time, our little girl, like many others, can’t innocently focus on her studies and recess play, as she knows that tomorrow may be the day when someone questions her identity or forces her go to a segregated washroom.

“Sadly, it’s likely to be an adult, as other kids love her for who she is.”

While adults opposed to LGBT inclusion cause “shouting match”-style government proceedings, younger children and young adults in the Catholic Church have thankfully become more accepting and affirming of LGBT people with each passing day. The board’s meeting in October will likely vote on the policy and even if it rejects the drafted policy, it seems the Ministry of Education’s intervention is a real possibility to ensure equal education. But it would be better for Catholic leaders to willingly enact policies which welcome all, meet every student’s needs, and cherish each young person as a child of God.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Lesbian Educator Comes Out At End of Twenty Year Career in Catholic Education

August 3, 2015

Joan Grundy with her new book, A Deepening Life

After nearly twenty years in Catholic education, Joan Grundy is coming out as a lesbian in her just released autobiography. In the book, A Deepening Life, she tells of being a lesbian employee in Canada’s Catholic schools and shares the quiet ways she helped create change.

Grundy has been a vice-principal at St. Mary’s Catholic High School in Kitchener, Ontario before retiring this year in pursuit of other interests and greater authenticity. In a CTV report, Grundy is clear that working for a Catholic school kept her fearful of being out, but decided to make the revelation at age 54:

” ‘I’d been peeking out of it for quite a while, and it was good to kick that darn door open, right off its hinges…I probably would have been a little bit more vocal earlier, it’s safe to say, had I not been in the Catholic board.’ “

Grundy said she could never been “openly gay in a public way” to students, co-workers, and even her parents for fear of losing her job, even as she privately supported LGBTQ students. In fact, Grundy is clear it took her until she was already teaching and 33 to come out to herself. This situation is tough for church workers she said:

“I talk in my book about walking a tightrope, and I think many senior administrators in Catholic boards walk those same tightropes, because, again, we’re contracted and we need to abide by the official teachings of the church, and it’s not always easy.”

Being in the closet brought shame for Grundy, shame which is “not of God” but rather is “quite suffocating for the soul.” It also “haunted” her that she was encouraging students to be themselves and not doing the same, reported the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

Still, the former vice-principal decided she could not abandon the LGBTQ youth in Catholic schools according to The Hamilton Spectator:

“I went into teaching to make a difference in kids’ lives and to turn my back on them didn’t feel right…These students resonate with me. We have a shared experience of pain and hurt. . .

“I have never doubted that God loves me and created me as a gay woman. That is foundational for me…My spirituality is pivotal in how I live. And for those young people, I want them to know they are loved by God, celebrated by God and accepted by God.”

Her biggest push for these students came in 2012, after the regional government mandated all schools, including religious ones, to support LGBTQ students. Grundy came out as gay in a meeting of Catholic school administrators, emphasizing the tremendous harm, sometimes leading to suicides, happening to too many teens.

At St. Mary’s H.S., she introduced the Kindness Matters program to promote fair treatment and helped bring gay alumni back to speak to current students.  She also helped by counseling youth.

In this next step of her life, Grundy hopes to  help expand teacher training around inclusivitiy, while at the same time supporting LGBT educators, whom she describes as “wounded healers.” She hopes that by opening discussion will encourage more LGBT educators to be out and make students feel safer in schools, particularly Catholic ones where “there’s a lot of fear, a lot of vulnerability.”

Joan Grundy’s story is one that is simultaneously laudatory and similar to so many LGBT church workers who quietly come to the aid of marginalized groups in Catholic schools, parishes, and other institutions. Her fears of being fired for her sexual identity or for having a same-gender relationship exposed are as real. And perpetuating such fear is antithetical to the Gospel.

Grundy’s journey is also a reminder of Scripture’s wisdom that there is an anointed time for all things and that each of us must live our journey to authenticity on our own time, faithful to God’s call for us in each moment.

What is resoundingly clear now is that, for our church, the time has come to end these firings and for schools to say “no more” to discrimination, instead valuing more and more the contributions of church workers like Grundy. Our church is greatly indebted to them, so to Joan and to all who faithfully serve, we say thank you!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Canadian Professor Gives Catholics a Lesson on Courage and Faith

January 31, 2015

In December 2014, Bondings 2.0 reported on a controversy in the Alberta province of Canada concerning Bill 10, a proposed law which would give local school boards the final say on whether a gay-straight alliance (GSA) could be established by students in a school.  This is especially important for Catholic schools in Alberta, which are state-funded, and run by Catholic boards.  The bill would make it more difficult for students to establish a GSA.

Alberta’s Premier delayed a vote on the bill so that a wider debate could happen among parents, school board members, administrators, students, and faculty.

But it seems that the hoped-for debate has not taken place. At least that’s the feeling of one University of Alberta professor, who recently penned an open letter calling on the Catholic school boards to start discussing the matter openly.

Dr. Kristopher Wells

Dr. Kristopher Wells of the university’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies challenged the trustees to start speaking, but he suspects their silence is caused by the fact that even though a recent poll showed that 80% of Albertans support GSAs, the two bishops of the province would like to see the controls put in place that Bill 10 offers. quoted from Wells’ letter:

“What we’re asking is for that curtain of silence to be lifted. We certainly have seen the pastoral letters from the bishops in Edmonton and Calgary but our democratically elected trustees have yet to speak and talk about how they understand GSAs and if they’ll support them.

“They can’t bring the issues forward out of fear for precautions and certainly the premier has promised consultation and we feel like democratically elected trustees should be part of that consultation, and we should be hearing from them, that’s their jobs.”

The Vauxhall Advance quoted Wells’ allegations that it is fear imposed bishops which caused the silenced discussion and interference with democracy:

“Catholic school trustees are not speaking out. We know that, for example, Catholic students have been silenced, parents have been silenced, along with trustees, teachers, and administrators on these LGBQT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer and Transgender/Transsexual) issues in schools. So what does that say about democracy if so many people are prevented from speaking out on these issues? I think for many of the Catholic trustees, and teachers in particular, there’s a great fear of retribution, where they’ve been told to stop speaking out.

“We’ve seen the letters from the Catholic bishops who refuse to support gay-straight alliances in schools. The fact that we have this ongoing censorship, I think as a public we have to ask if democratically-elected Catholic trustees are forbidden to voice their views, or speak on behalf of their constituents, is democracy being served? Do voters and their views not count?”

Wells noted that in the past the trustees did not always side with the bishops on other issues of controversy such as HPV vaccines:

“Science, reason and the evidence moved trustees to make decisions that would support students in their schools, and we’re asking for the same kind of consideration here on this issue surrounding gay-straight alliances — let the science, let the research, and let the evidence speak, and let’s have discussions, rather than this curtain of silence being dropped on trustees, with no dialogue, no debate, and certainly no democracy being served.”

This development is a sad commentary on the state of affairs in our Catholic Church when lay people are afraid to speak their opinions because of fear of the hierarchy.  Fortitude/courage is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church gives this description:

“Fortitude is the moral virtue that ensures firmness in difficulties and constancy in the pursuit of the good. It strengthens the resolve to resist temptations and to overcome obstacles in the moral life. The virtue of fortitude enables one to conquer fear, even fear of death, and to face trials and persecutions. It disposes one even to renounce and sacrifice his life in defense of a just cause.”

And Canon 212 of the Code of Canon Law states:

Ҥ2.The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires.

“§3. According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.”

Pope Francis has clearly signaled that debate and discussion should not be foreign to Catholic circles. That is the method of discernment that the Church should exercise.

The road to LGBT equality in the Catholic Church would be much easier if more Catholics found the courage to speak their beliefs to their pastors, bishops, and other leaders.  We should all pray to always have that kind of courage.

–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry



Rainbow Socks at Graduation: A Sign of Catholic Students’ Victory

June 6, 2014

Vanier Catholic students wearing rainbow socks during their graduation

When Liam Finnegan was 16, he challenged his Catholic high school about its use of pastorally damaging language about gay and lesbian people.  He  eventually succeeded in making changes. His message of acceptance has spread since then, and recently Finnegan’s peers donned rainbow socks for graduation to show their support for LGBT students.

Seniors at Vanier Catholic Secondary School in Canada’s Yukon province sported knee-high rainbow socks under their gowns in solidarity with the school’s gay-straight alliance which had been hotly contested. According to CBC, more than half the graduating class participated in the action, which was started by Kate Power, a friend of Finnegan’s. The socks represented a year’s worth of organizing, which resulted in the GSA’s formation and the removal of pastorally insensitive language in the Catholic school district’s written policy on homosexuality.

In April 2013, Finnegan, who is gay, successfully challenged Vanier Catholic’s use of the terms “intrinsically disordered” and “acts of grave depravity” when referring to lesbian and gay people on the school’s website. At the time, he said:

“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.”

Due to Finnegan’s complaint, the bishop and province’s education minister met and agreed that the offending document should be removed because it violated the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Canada’s Catholic schools are publicly-funded and must abide by government policies.

In the fall of 2013, a new policy on homosexuality was released. The offending language was removed and language about the dignity of LGBT people and need for respecting them was added.  The policy also mandated students be allowed to form GSAs and that administrators deal with hate crimes immediately.

Of Kate Power’s rainbow sock demonstration, and the broader changes at Vanier Catholic, Finnegan said:

” ‘She wanted to make a statement saying “We’re not a homophobic school’ because a lot of people have that perception, so it was a really cool experience to see that,” ‘

” ‘I remember my dad telling me afterwards how it was an emotional experience, because it showed my class really supporting me, my cause and just being a really open group of people.’…

” ‘It’s a big difference and it’s noticeable…Even though it might have just been a few words that changed in the policy, it’s given us the chance to start a wonderful  group that’s trying to make a huge difference in our school and in our community.’ “

Mural painted as part of a Pride Week celebration at a Canadian Catholic high school.

The school’s GSA had about 30 members this year, and it will continue next year. Bondings 2.0 has written previously bout the many inroads towards LGBT inclusion that Canada’s Catholic schools are making, including the Ontario teachers’ decision to march in World Pride this month and the beautiful mural painted during one high school’s first ever Pride week. For full coverage of developments on Catholic LGBT issues in Canada, click here.

Congratulations to Liam Finnegan and the students of Vanier Catholic Secondary School on graduating, and for the LGBT-inclusive legacy they will leave behind!

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Related Articles

Canadian Catholic Schools Update LGBT Policy, But Not All Are Satisfied

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


‘Year of Lady Gaga,’ IDAHOT, & Other Events Show Catholic High Schools’ Progress

May 17, 2014

Canadian student paints mural to celebrate IDAHOT

Catholic colleges have long modeled LGBT acceptance for the wider Church, offering student organizations and offices tasked with fostering a welcoming campus for all. Lately, it seems Catholic high schools, too, are more and more responding to students’ expectations for equality and striving for more inclusive classrooms.

As LGBT advocates worldwide act for the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) today, let’s look at some of the positive steps being taken in Catholic high schools.

Members of Blessed Pope John Paul II Catholic Secondary School in Toronto celebrated their first Pride Week this past week, linked to today’s IDAHOT. Students involved with the school’s gay-straight alliance spent this week painting a mural which was unveiled yesterday (see photo for detail). Junior Maneesa Sotheedwaran said of the mural, according to DailyXtra:

” ‘Our mural is a picture of an eye, and it’s black and white because we don’t want to choose an ethnicity or gender, so it’s sort of our GSA’s vision of seeing the colours unite and promoting the colours that the Pride flag represents,” Sotheedwaran says, noting that when it’s finished, the mural will say ‘love is love’ above the eye and ‘gay straight alliance’ below.”

Other events during the week included a film and discussion on homophobia, a fitting end to the GSA’s first year after Ontario’s government mandated that Catholic schools receiving public funding allow for the establishment of  LGBT groups. Sotheedwaran, who helped found the group, says of the process:

” ‘The principal we had at the time was completely supportive of it…He actually got really emotional and told me about his own experiences in his family, and he was very interested in having this happen. He thought it was very important.’

” ‘It’s important for a school to say that and accept all students because, whether or not you’re going to join because you’re gay or bisexual or whatever, knowing that your school has a GSA and that environment is there is like a sort of validation.’ “

(As an aside, in Italy, many Catholic churches are hosting prayer vigils for IDAHOT celebrations this year.  For a complete list, click here, and scroll down to the middle of the page.)

Lady Gaga

Across the border in Amsterdam, New York (near Albany), Fr. John Medwid of St. Mary’s Catholic Church, and the attached St. Mary’s Institute (SMI), explained his remarks that this was “going to be the Year of Lady Gaga at SMI.” The priest’s comments about Lady Gaga, a strong supporter of LGBT equality, were first made at the school’s opening Mass in September, but Edge on the Net reports Medwid followed-up this spring saying:

” ‘…many people may not realize that Lady Gaga is the product of Catholic education…she was someone who followed her own path…It takes a great deal of courage especially for young people to blaze their own trails in life!’ “

In Ireland, Catholic schools will participate in the government’s anti-bullying campaign that specifically addresses LGBT topics. The nation’s Department of Education released specific steps schools will take to curtail homophobic and transphobic bullying, including posters, participation in “Stand Up! Awareness Week,” and additional resources for educators’ use.

The Independent reports these reforms are a response to a book released last winter, Bullying In Irish Education, writing:

“It was reported that almost six in 10 LGBT people, and more than half of current schoolgoers, suffered homophobic bullying in school.

“Over 50 per cent said they had been called names because of their sexual orientation and a startling eight per cent were even taunted by members of school staff.”

“Research reported high levels of depression and self-harm, with increasing risks of suicide among those who were affected.”

It is a hopeful sign that Catholic high schools are responding to not only a changing culture, but to their students’ LGBT-inclusive demands. Emerging generations of Catholics and those educated in the Church’s school systems will not tolerate anti-gay discrimination. They reject disrespectful and fallacious remarks from authority figures,  as in the incident in North Carolina several weeks ago. Yet, more hopeful is their engagement in the work of building up local communities through education and dialogue that receive blessings from their educators and administrators.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Ontario Teachers’ Decision to March in WorldPride Parade Draws Criticism

April 25, 2014

Catholic educators in Ontario are planning to march in the WorldPride 2014 parade in Toronto, a decision which has drawn criticism from some parents and the local cardinal.

The Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA), a union which represents teachers in Ontario’s Catholic schools, will participate in the June parade as an act of solidarity with the LGBT community. James Ryan, the union’s president, made clear this action was not a protest and said of the teachers’ involvement:

” ‘It was in support of those members in the community who identity as LGBT, to be free from all forms of hatred and discrimination and that alone is what it is for…Our marching is purely on the basis of support in solidarity for people to be free from discrimination.’ “

OECTA represents 45,000 educators in the province’s Catholic schools which receive public funds. The union released a statement on their website that echoed Ryan’s remarks but was more critical of Catholic institutions, saying further:

“There is no doubt that students and teachers in Catholic schools, like other publicly funded schools in Ontario, face bullying and discrimination that sometimes has fatal consequences. Few in our society would disagree that more must be done to change the culture of our schools in order to allow individuals, without exception, to lead healthy lives free of harassment and prejudice

“OECTA believes that taking the public stand of marching in the WorldPride Parade 2014 will provide comfort and support to our students and teachers who frequently struggle in a hostile environment that does not offer them the support and protection they are owed as citizens of Ontario and Canada.”

In response, a group called Parents As First Educators (PAFE) has been gathering signatures to protest OECTA’s participation in WorldPride events. The petition was launched Easter Monday, directed at the Ontario Catholic school trustees who are asked to use their power against OECTA, according to the Toronto Sun.

Cardinal Thomas Collins of Toronto also criticized the teachers’ attendance in the parade. Michael O’Loughlin of The Advocate reports the cardinal called the teachers attendance in the parade “wrong” and said “OECTA leadership have an inadequate and mistaken understanding of their faith.”

What Cardinal Collins and other critics seem to miss, but what the teachers clearly understand, is that Catholic schools are not harmed, but thrive when they are fully inclusive of LGBT people.  In previous years, the OECTA voiced their support for gay LGBT issues but never formally participated in an event. When the union’s assembly voted this year to ramp up support for WorldPride and march in the parade,  they did this “in solidarity with one of most marginalized groups in Catholic community” according to their website.

These teachers know firsthand the suffering of students who are LGBT and the hardships of their LGBT peers, like transgender educator Jan Buterman who was fired from a Catholic school last year. Catholics everywhere would do well to learn from the witness of these teachers in Ontario.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry


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