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.)
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