GSAs in Ontario Catholic Schools Grow Students’ Faith, Build ‘Glory of God’

Gay-straight alliances are sometimes controversial in Catholic education. Yet five years after some Canadian legislators required schools to offer them if requested, Catholic schools in the province of Ontario are doing well on LGBT inclusion.

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Ontario’s Catholic educators marching at Pride

The Legislative Assembly of Ontario approved Bill 13, or the Accepting Schools Act, in 2012 against some Catholic leaders’ opposition. The Act requires that all schools funded by the government, which includes Canadian Catholic schools, must offer a student group titled “gay-straight alliance” if it is requested by students.

Those requests happened immediately, according to Danielle Desjardins-Koloff, the principal of Safe Schools, Equity, and Inclusion for the Windsor-Essex Catholic School Board. She commented to the National Catholic Reporter:

“‘To be honest, I was very excited, because I do believe that [the alliances] celebrate our human dignity and they recognize that these students have a unique place. . .We had allies where we didn’t know allies existed, where we hadn’t yet defined “ally.”‘”

Though she admitted that working in Catholic education is more difficult than secular settings, in the past five years Desjardins-Koloff has successfully trained every Windsor-Essex Catholic school on LGBT support, and all secondary schools have gay-straight alliances.  Achieving this goal has not meant watering down or sidelining Catholic identity:

“Desjardins-Koloff understands that some members of the community may fear that a gay-straight alliance would ‘devalue the traditional sense of a family,’ but she is quick to point to the convergence of a gay-straight alliance and Catholic ethos. She said she worked to ‘convince the community that these clubs weren’t about sex or sexuality. It was about sexual identity and orientation; it’s about identity and celebrating individuals’ authentic versions of themselves.’

‘Seeing Catholic social justice teaching providing ‘beautiful support,’ Desjardins-Koloff helps students design gay-straight alliance meetings that are ‘centered on Christ-like actions and discipleship.’ She thinks gay-straight alliances are helping to bring students back to a church where they felt they hadn’t belonged before.

“‘The first few times these kids don’t see themselves as part of the Catholic community at all, and they kinda laugh, and they don’t want to join hands and they don’t want to join in, and it’s by choice,’ said Desjardins-Koloff. ‘But by the end of the semester or even some by a month, we are praying together. Our hands are held and we’re in a circle and they feel that energy. They feel every bit a part of that community.'”

These efforts and similar ones throughout Ontario are bearing fruit beyond school walls. Catholic students have begun collaborating between schools and helping support the Catholic Student Leadership Team’s annual inclusivity conference, which now addresses LGBT issues. Students and staff in the Windsor-Essex district have also begun partnerships with secular LGBT groups in the community

Even with these many successes, there are still several aspects of LGBT supports in Ontario’s Catholic systems that are being worked out. Arlene Davis, vice principal at St. Anne’s Catholic School, said she has had several conversations with parents about the school’s gay-straight alliance which she advises:

“Our religious background is something that we respect, but at the same time, it is conservative, and we want to respect that and we want to help these kids along so that they can definitely go along and feel like they’re accomplishing things,’ said Davis.

“Having set up a booth for the gay-straight alliance group at St. Anne’s parent-teacher interview nights, Butler noticed that some parents seemed pleased to see it, but others she watched direct their children to avoid the club.”

But even with these obstacles, and several others you can read about here, Ontario educators have remained supportive. Kevin Welbes Godin of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association wrote for Bondings 2.0 about how Catholic teachers have led the way on LGBT inclusion. This support has included marching as a contingent in WorldPride and other Pride celebrations. Davis explained part of her own reasoning for staying involved:

“‘As a parent first, to see kids that just feel so free and so able to just express themselves and enjoy. And not be judged. . .like, this is who I am, and I’m cool with it. . .I think there still is that extra thing, when you’re on a team. It makes you feel a little bit more special, a little bit more heard, a little bit more accepted. . .”

In Davis’ comment, I hear echoes of St. Irenaeus’ words, “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.” Five years on, I am thankful for Bill 13 and the ways it has made the glory of God that much more visible in our world through the flourishing of LGBT students and their educators.

To watch a video about St. Anne’s Catholic School in Windsor-Essex, Ontario, click here.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, August 15, 2017

 

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Students Protest Catholic School’s Decision to Remove Rainbow Flag

Controversy over LGBT issues in one of Canada’s Catholic school systems has once again made headlines, resulting in unfortunate harm during Pride celebrations.

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Students protesting at Blessed Oscar Romero High School

To mark Pride, students at Blessed Oscar Romero High School in Edmonton, Alberta, hung a rainbow flag in the school with some additional rainbow decorations. The next day, students drew a rainbow flag in chalk at the school’s entrance. CBC reported what happened next:

 

“On Tuesday morning, student president-elect Francis Nievera was called into the principal’s office. He said he was told all the decorations must come down because the chalk was being tracked inside, which he said was understandable. But those weren’t the only reasons.

“‘They said putting up flags was a political statement and it made some people uncomfortable and we need to make everyone feel comfortable,’ said Nievera, an openly transsexual and transgender Grade 10 student. ‘To have it all torn down in less than a day kind of sucked.'”

Lori Nagy of the Edmonton Catholic School Board denied claims the decorations were authorized, and said the school’s principal was willing to support other pride celebrations. Nonetheless, Nievera’s invitation, students protested, according to the CBC: 

“Prior to the protest, a video shows an emotional Nievera, near a handful of supporters including the school mascot, address students from the stage in the school cafeteria.

“‘We have to take down all the decorations today,’ he said, setting off boos from the crowd. ‘But I just want to say because of this I really don’t feel safe.'”

“‘If you guys want to help support pride week, even though all of this will be taken down, feel free to come outside and protest.'”

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The chalk rainbow flag in dispute at Blessed Oscar Romero High School

Students gathered at the chalk rainbow flag as other students used power washers to remove it. According to the CBC, “More than 30 students refused to return to class.”

Kennedy Harper, who helped organize the school’s Pride celebrations, said administrators threatened protesting students with suspension. She commented further:

“‘It seems like along with the chalk they were just washing away their identity. . .It felt really good for a little while, seeing the school really come together and standing up for the rights of minorities whether they’re part of the LGBTQ community or not.'”

Shortly after all the decorations had been removed , school administrators then said that the flags would be allowed for the remainder of the week.

This is hardly the first time Edmonton’s Catholic school system has been roiled in LGBT-related controversies. A student at the neighboring St. Joseph Catholic High School was also asked to remove a rainbow flag he wore during a school ceremony. The Edmonton Catholic School Board’s actions in 2015 around a transgender policy saw meetings erupt into a “shouting match” as the Board approved a draft policy allowing  “just discrimination” of some youth. Elsewhere in Alberta, a former bishop referred to LGBTQ policies being implemented in Catholic schools “totalitarian” and “anti-Catholic.”

The situation at Blessed Oscar Romero adds to this list of avoidable, damaging incidents where LGBTQ students are made to feel less than comfortable and even unsafe in Catholic education. No harm was caused by allowing some minor Pride decorations to be displayed, but much harm was done by power washing them and ripping them away.

Once again, it is young students in Catholic schools who are the ones leading our church to be more just and inclusive for LGBT people. And of these students’ commitment to justice for all people, Monseñor Romero would likely be very proud.

Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, June 19, 2017

 

 

Why Catholic High Schools Need LGBTQ+ Student Groups

Last month, a St. Louis, MO, Catholic high school, Nerinx Hall, made news when it turned down a student request to establish a gay-straight alliance (GSA). Questions arose about how Catholic high schools can best serve their LGBTQ+ students while retaining their Catholic identity. 

To aid Nerinx Hall and all other Catholic schools when deciding whether to start an LGBTQ+ student group, Bondings 2.0 has compiled data on the experiences of LGBTQ+ high school students and the proven impact LGBTQ+ student groups have on high school campus climates. 

Educational Consequences of Unsafe Environments

The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Educators Network’s (GLSEN) 2015 National School Climate Survey Executive Summary spelled out the problems students face

op-story-lgbt-safety-300x250“A hostile school climate affects students’ academic success and mental health. LGBTQ+ students who experience victimization and discrimination at school have worse educational outcomes and poorer psychological well-being.” Additionally, the GLSEN document said that unsafe school environments also lead students to drop out of school early, “42.5% of LGBTQ+ students who reported that they did not plan to finish high school, or were not sure if they would finish, indicated that they were considering dropping out because of the harassment they faced at school.” 

LGBTQ+ students who experienced discrimination were “more than three times as likely to have missed school in the past month, had lower GPAs than their peers, and had lower self-esteem and school belonging and higher levels of depression,” according to the GLSEN report. 

“We see that LGBT youth are being deprived of an equal education based on these hostile school climates,” Emily Greytak, GLSEN Research Director.

School climate directly impacts how well students learn and socialize. Heightened stressors like bullying, discrimination, victimization, and lacking a sense of community are proven to make LGBTQ+ students more likely to have negative educational and developmental outcomes. LGBTQ+ student groups provide a space for students to create a sense of community and support so they can better perform as students as they develop into adulthood. 

Do LGBTQ+ student groups work? The data says, “Yes!” 

According to a report by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, data from as early as 1998 shows that LGBTQ+ students attending schools with LGBTQ+ student groups “were less likely to report being victimized, skipping school because of fear of victimization, or attempting suicide.” The same report showed that LGBTQ+ student groups are “significantly protective” in decreasing suicidal ideation and attempts by LGB high school students. 

More recent data in GLSEN “Safe Space Kit” 2016 and GLSEN’s 2015 National School Climate Survey shows students who did have an LGBTQ+ student group were less likely to feel unsafe because of their sexual orientation, experienced lower levels of victimization related to their sexual orientation and gender expression, reported a greater number of supportive school staff and more accepting peers, were more likely to report incidents of harassment and assault, felt more connected to their school community, and were less likely to miss school because of safety concerns than LGBTQ+ students in schools without an LGBTQ+ student group. 

LGBTQ+ student groups have even been found to benefit school climates on issues beyond sexuality and gender identity. According to the GLSEN “Teasing to Torment” 2015 document, even non-LGBTQ+ students in schools with LGBTQ+ student groups “experience less victimization based on race/ethnicity and based on appearance than students without a GSA” and reported “greater feelings of safety for the general student body.” 

Catholic Schools Need LGBTQ+ Student Groups

Some Catholic educators and administrators are worried that granting students an LGBTQ+ student group would negatively impact the Catholic identity of the school, but this fear is by no means an excuse to deny students what they need: an LGBTQ+ student group. 

rolingAccording to a GLSEN’s 2015 National School Climate Survey, barring students from forming or promoting an LGBTQ+ student group clearly sends “the message that LGBT topics, and in some cases, even LGBTQ+ people, are not appropriate for extracurricular activities.” GLSEN claimed that by denying or hindering LGBTQ+ student groups, the school administration marks “official school activities distinctly as non-LGBT” and that such discrimination prevents “LGBTQ+ students from participating in the school community as fully and completely as other students.”

In Pope Francis’ directive for Catholic education, listed on the Catholic education web page of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, he calls us to care for the needs of all students, which, of course, means LGBTQ+ students, too: 

“Our generation will show that it can rise to the promise found in each young person when we know how to give them space. This means that we have to create the material and spiritual conditions for their full development; to give them a solid basis on which to build their lives; to guarantee their safety and their education to be everything they can be.” 

Catholic school administrators and educators cannot ignore the needs of LGBTQ+ students as they raise themselves to the promise found in their own selves. Denying them the space to grow and heal does not rise to their promise, it denies that their promise exists. 

So, paraphrasing Pope Francis, Catholic school administrators should ask themselves: “Can we rise to the promise found in your LGBTQ+ students and guarantee their safety and their education to be everything they can be?” 

Glen Bradley, New Ways Ministry, March 28, 2017


Would you like to start an LGBTQ+ student group at your school? The GSA Network has resources available here. GLSEN also has resources on how to start an LGBTQ+ student group and general resources for LGBTQ+ student groups

Come to New Ways Ministry’s symposium this April for our focus session “Youth, Young Adult Ministry, and LGBT Questions.” Find more information on our symposium website.

Youth, Young Adult Ministry, and LGBT Questions

Don’t Forget! Spirit Day is THIS Thursday, October 20, 2016!

By Glen Bradley, New Ways Ministry, October 18, 2016spiritdayatcatholicschool_facebook

What is Spirit Day?

It is an annual national event reminding schools to confront anti-LGBT bullying and bias. Click here for more info from GLAAD.

When is it? 

THIS Thursday, October 20, 2016.

What happens? What can I do?

Wear as many purple clothes as you can on Thursday, October 20th. The display of purple will show that you are against anti-LGBT discrimination and you support your LGBT students, faculty, and staff. Wearing purple will show you want to have a safe and inclusive school! 

What if I am a student and have a dress code or uniform?

If you can’t wear a purple shirt or skirt/pants/dress, your school might allow you to wear a purple sweater, a ribbon pinned to your shirt, or a bracelet that is made of anything purple (ribbon, yarn, etc.). If you are comfortable, you could ask your parents for advice. Or, you can usually find your school’s dress code online if you Google your school’s name and “dress code” or “uniform.” If your school allows a non-uniform sweater and/or jewelry, wear them in purple!

What about social media? What should I post?

Spread the word! Share this page with your friends and teachers.

Use #SpiritDayAtCatholicSchools, @NewWaysMinistry and @GLAAD on all your social media posts and photos to join our new hashtag campaign. It will help you find fellow LGBT and ally students, faculty, and staff at Catholic schools while helping them find you!

Share our social media banner (download here).

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Post our social media image (download here). 

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Follow @NewWaysMinistry on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

Use GLAAD’s app (iPhone & Andriod) to make your profile pictures purple.

Important!

We know we’ve said this a lot, but don’t forget to use #SpiritDayAtCatholicSchools for all your Spirit Day photos! This hashtag is new and making it go viral can bring attention to the work needed at Catholic schools. You can join this new social media trend!

Want to find out more? Need help explaining Spirit Day to others or to your school? Wondering about the Catholic school context?

Download and print this resource from New Ways Ministry explaining Spirit Day from a Catholic perspective! (PDF download available here).

Click here for our original post calling Catholics to participate in Spirit Day 2016.

Gay Student Banned from High School Dance Files Lawsuit

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Lance Sanderson

By Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry, September 26, 2016

A Catholic high school in Tennessee is facing a discrimination lawsuit from a gay former student banned from attending a formal dance in 2015.

Lance Sanderson’s lawsuit claims Christian Brothers High School (CBHS) in Memphis violated multiple non-discrimination laws when it prohibited him from bringing a same-gender date to the school’s homecoming dance last year. NBC News reported:

“With his lawsuit, filed Tuesday in Circuit Court, Sanderson is seeking up to $1 million from CBHS on several state and federal claims — including breach of contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent training and a violation under Title IX of the 1972 Education Amendments.”

Sanderson was suspended when he returned to CBHS  on the Monday following the homecoming dance which he elected not to attend. School officials told him at the time that they did not “appreciate the unwarranted publicity.” Sanderson’s supporters had organized under #LetLanceDance, and a Change.org petition gathered nearly 28,000 signatures, but to no avail. Facing bullying from administrators and students alike, Sanderson completed senior year through online coursework and missed graduation. He is now studying at DePaul University, a very supportive Catholic institution in Chicago.

The lawsuit claims CBHS’s decision about Sanderson’s male date request was discriminatory, as was their subsequent actions. The suit includes new details about the aforementioned events, too. Sanderson’s lawyers pointed out the CBHS code of conduct explicitly includes sexual orientation among protected classes, so that all students will “feel safe, secured and accepted.” This was not the case, however:

“Days before the homecoming dance, however, the school began to broadcast daily messages over the intercom that students were not allowed to bring boys from other schools as dates.

“With each announcement, the lawsuit states, Sanderson ‘felt bullied by both the school administration and by some of the students.’

” ‘As a private school, CBHS held itself out to be nondiscriminatory with regard to sexual orientation,’ Sanderson’s attorney, Manis, said. ‘In our eyes, it seems very clear those were hollow words … They were not interested in treating [Sanderson] the same as other students.'”

Most significantly, Sanderson is claiming violations of Title IX, the federal civil rights law which prohibits sex discrimination in education. This law traditionally focused on equality in education for women, but has been interpreted under President Barack Obama’s administration to protect LGBT students, too. If successful, Sanderson’s lawsuit could build upon the 2015 favorable ruling involving a private institution, Pepperdine University, thus establishing a stronger precedent. NBC reported:

“Notably, Pepperdine — like CBHS — is a private institution that receives additional federal funds, and Sanderson’s legal team is hoping that case will serve as an important precedent for theirs.

” ‘We have confirmation that CBHS receives federal funding and also potentially state funding for certain programs at the school,’ Howard Manis, one of Sanderson’s lawyers, said. ‘That makes them responsible for following the letter of the law under Title IX.’ “

Having graduated and begun college, Sanderson’s lawsuit is not about directly rectifying the situation for him at CBHS. His appeal last year to administrators, in a letter where he said he had not “done anything wrong” nor “hurt anybody” but simply wanted to be treated equally, went unheard. Sanderson told NBC that he is taking action now because he really does not “want anyone else to go through what I went through this year.”

Even if we leave the legal issues involved in discrimination cases and religious entities to the lawyers, it should be clear that Catholic institutions, because of their religious values, should not discriminate. This is especially true when they explicitly claim to welcome marginalized communities, as CBHS did in its code of conduct.

Rather than waiting for the lawsuit to play out, at great time and expense for all involved, school officials should offer an apology and take concrete steps to ensure no discrimination against LGBT students, faculty, or staff will occur in the future. And at this year’s homecoming, they should welcome Lance and let him dance as one of their newest alumni.

 

Lesbian Student Ejected from Catholic Prom Welcomed by Neighboring School; More Updates on Previous Stories

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Aniya Wolf, left, and her date at prom

At Bondings 2.0, we often find that there are almost always too many Catholic LGBT news stories and perspectives to cover.   Not to mention the fact, that some of the best stories often have important follow-ups.  Today’s post covers developments in stories which our blog has previously covered.

Lesbian Student Ejected from Prom Welcomed by Neighboring School

Aniya Wolf, a lesbian student ejected from her Catholic school’s prom for wearing a suit, was welcomed by William Penn Senior High School in York, Pennsylvania, suit and all. Principal Brandon Carter said the school does “embrace all” students and had welcomed its own students many times in attire which was comfortable for them.

Wolf had been removed from the prom of Harrisburg’s Bishop McDevitt High School because, school officials claimed, female students were required to wear a dress. Wolf showed up in a suit purchased for the occasion, which she was finally able to wear to Penn’s prom. Her mother, Carol, told The Washington Post:

” ‘This is Aniya. . .This is who Aniya has been since she’s very young. And she would not look right in a dress. She looks great in a suit.’ “

This is not the first instance where gendered clothing in Catholic education has caused tremendous pain and public controversy, but it hopefully might be one of the last.

Bolivia Passes Transgender Law Against Bishops’ Opposition

Despite heavy opposition from Catholic bishops, Bolivian legislators passed a transgender rights bill in late May that President Evo Morales then signed into law.

The law affords transgender people the right to alter government records in accordance with their gender identity, reported TeleSurReuters reported that a recent study shows that Bolivia becomes now only one of five nations in the world to constitutionally protect the rights of LGBT people, the others being Britain, Fiji, Malta, and Ecuador. Legislators had been pressured by some Bolivian Catholics to reject the law, according to The Washington Post:

“Predictably, the gender identity law has met with stiff resistance, not least from the Catholic Church. There have been protest marches, particularly in Santa Cruz, the conservative city that is Bolivia’s economic motor. Writing in Bolivian newspaper El Diario, theologian Gary Antonio Rodrígues Alvarez even warned that the concept of ‘hate,’ as used to define crimes committed against gays because of their sexuality, is ‘highly dangerous.’ “

Bolivia’s bishops specifically criticized the law, according to Crux, because it “wasn’t publicly debated, and didn’t receive the necessary consensus.” It did not, in their opinion, “solve the underlying problems.” The bishops did affirm the church’s opposition to discrimination.  This recent response from the bishops softens slightly language from Bishop Aurelio Pesoa, president of the nation’s episcopal conference, who said in December that the law “aims to subvert one of the foundations of our human lifestyle” and was “a clear attempt of cultural colonization.”

Florida Implements LGBT Youth Protections Opposed by Bishops 

A policy which bans the bullying and harassment of LGBT foster children in group homes has finally been reinstated by the Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF), after it was withdrawn for a time as a result of religious opposition, reported the Orlando Sentinel.

DCF Secretary Mike Carroll said the process was “basically just listening to all involved,” and the decision had now been made about “how you best protect young people who have already been abused and neglected and who are the most vulnerable in our system.” An ombudsperson position has been created to monitor discrimination. The new policy explicitly bans “reparative therapy.”.

This policy was again criticized by the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops who said in a statement the policy “goes too far” and does not consider other children’s well-being if they must share space “with someone who ‘identifies’ as the same gender, but remains biologically different.” The Conference, in conjunction with partner religious organizations, had successfully had the policy reversed late last year. Bondings 2.0 said, at the time, that the Conference’s treatment of this issue was “misguided and ill-informed.

To keep current on all the latest Catholic LGBT news and information, subscribe to Bondings 2.0 by entering your email in the box you can find in the upper right-hand corner of this page.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry

Catholic High School Twice Rejects Student Request for LGBT Group

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Louis Fisher

Should Catholic high schools host LGBT student groups, commonly referred to as gay-straight alliances or GSAs? Louis Fisher certainly believes so.

Twice this past spring, Fisher, a senior at Judge Memorial High School, Salt Lake City, Utah, appealed to school administrators to recognize a GSA. Noting the school’s generally welcoming environment, Fisher explained to The Salt Lake Tribune:

” ‘We talk a lot about inclusivity and bullying, but I feel like we never dialogue about the experience of being gay in high school. . .It’s not that I feel unsupported at Judge; it’s that I feel there needs to be explicit support.’ “

Judge Memorial officials did not agree, denying in two letters the student’s requests that had included a 1,200 signature petition. Officials refused any club with “LGBT” in the name or that they see as promoting homosexuality. They suggested concerned students should participate in the Peace and Social Justice Club and add LGBT issues to those discussions. The Tribune reported:

“Principal Patrick Lambert said student safety and inclusion are top priorities for Judge administrators, teachers and counselors, many of whom have rainbow stickers plastered to their doors. . .But Lambert, who said he consulted with officials at other Utah Catholic schools, believes the issues raised by Fisher can be addressed without a new club.’ “

Fisher disagreed with the idea of integrating LGBT issues into an existing student group, saying it makes LGBT people “feel marginalized at Judge” and “would make people less enthusiastic about joining.” A second round of meetings between Fisher, his parents, and school officials produced similar rejection. Fisher has promised to resume his campaign in the fall.

Unlike public schools, religious institutions like Judge Memorial are not bound by federal laws which support GSAs in schools. The Tribune cited only three groups at Catholic schools in the U.S., these being Dowling Catholic High,Des Moines, St. Mary’s Academy, Portland, Oregon, and Xavier High, New York City.

Recently, two incidents at other schools serve as reminders that more proactive support for LGBT students is needed in secondary education.  In one case, Catholic high school refused to recognize a gay student’s scholarship, and in another case, a Catholic school expelled a lesbian student from prom for wearing a suit.

This situation at Judge Memorial shows that younger students in Catholic education are not settling for broad claims of acceptance, but they want resources and spaces specific to LGBT students.  Administrators’ denial of these supports entails high costs for all persons and institutions involved. The vulnerability of LGBT youth must be the prime concern Catholic educators in these cases. These youth experience higher rates of bullying, harassment, and violence that translates into higher rates of self-injurious behavior and suicide.

Catholic education, at its best, should help every student come to know themselves more fully as God created them. Rather than lumping LGBT students into general concerns, their situation mandates a special option. Coming to know one’s identity is a complex process, particularly in adolescence, and coming out as LGBT can be immensely difficult without love and affirmation. But this is a holy journey that Catholic education can and must support.

–Bob Shine, New Ways Ministry