Canadian Catholic School Bans GSAs
A Catholic school board in Ontario, Canada came under fire for banning gay-straight alliances and then defending the decision by saying that Nazi groups would also be barred.
The story was broken on Jan. 6 by Canadian GLBT site Xtra!, which reported that the Halton Catholic District School Board (HCDSB) had decided not to allow GSAs, despite a policy in Ontario to promote non-discrimination in the schools.
Xtra quoted the chair of the HCDSB, Alice Anne LeMay! as saying, "We don’t have Nazi groups either." Added LeMay, "Gay-straight alliances are banned because they are not within the teachings of the Catholic Church." The chair went on to say that GSAs are "not in accordance with the teachings of the church. If [students] wanted to have a club outside of school, fine, just not in school."
As for the board’s seeming clash with government guidelines, "That’s the rights of the Catholic schools," LeMay said. "We have denominational rights. And our rights say we will not do anything against magisterial of the Catholic Church."
The board’s education director, Michael Pautler, told Xtra!, "All students that attend school should be able to feel free of harassment and are protected from any forms of persecution or anything that makes them feel marginalized." But Pautler suggested that groups specific to GLBT students would be inappropriately narrow. "Dialogue groups can achieve the same kinds of objectives, but that have a broader focus on inclusion generally. Or a celebration of diversity, as opposed to focusing on any one particular expression of diversity."
A subsequent Xtra! article posted on Jan. 10 quoted from the Ontario Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy: "All members of the school community are to be treated with respect and dignity. The strategy is helping educators across the province better identify and remove discriminatory biases and systemic barriers to student achievement. These barriers--related to racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of discrimination--may prevent some students from reaching their full potential."
Xtra! went on to analyze how the board had adjusted and amended the governmental guidelines to accommodate Church teachings and the demands of Bishop Paul-Andre Durocher, who serves as Chair of the Education Commission of the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario.
The Assembly had taken exception to the government’s guidelines, and urged Catholic schools to forego GSAs in favor of broader efforts at combating discrimination, saying that GSAs "imply a self-identification with sexual orientation that is often premature among high-school students."
Yet, in the same letter, the Assembly told Catholic schools that, "Romantic attachments and behavior are fully expected of heterosexual couples. Behavior such as holding hands, embracing, kissing, dating and dancing that are romantically intended are all acceptable within appropriate limits.
"It will be especially difficult for young persons who are experiencing homosexual romantic yearnings to understand and accept this teaching of the Church since it discourages romantic behavior that would be acceptable in a heterosexual context," the Assembly acknowledged.
The Xtra! article summarized, "[A]ccording to the Assembly of Catholic Bishops, high-school students’ self-identification with a sexual orientation isn’t ’premature,’ it’s ’fully expected.’ Yet, should a student express homosexuality instead of heterosexuality it’s to be condemned as unacceptable--again another document in violation of the Equity and Inclusion Education policy. And while the Church Teaching On Sexuality condemns homophobia, it also instructs the educator to prepare the gay student for a ’journey toward chastity.’ " Added the article, "It Gets Abstinent."
"The HCDSB’s decision to include the Catechism of the Catholic Church, the official text of the teaching of the Catholic Church and a document in clear violation of the Ontario Ministry of Education’s own Equity and Inclusion Education policy, might lead some to ask why the Ontario Separate School board continues to receive public funding in the province," the Xtra! article continued. "It’s a question other Catholic boards might’ve hoped to avoid by approving the policy without amendments that could attract the attention of the media."
The mainstream media picked up on the story almost as quickly as bloggers and the gay online press. A Jan. 10 article in Canadian newspaper the Globe and Mail reported that LeMay offered an apology for her comment. LeMay also claimed that "her words were taken out of context," the article said.
"It was not my intent to make any type of comparison between gay-straight alliances and Nazi groups," LeMay told the media, reported Canada.com on Jan. 10. "Rather, I was providing a number of examples of groups that are not endorsed and permitted in Halton Catholic schools, for example, groups in favor of abortion or hate groups of any nature." Added LeMay, "I did not make a direct comparison between gay-straight alliances and any of these groups, nor was that my intent."
Newly elected board member Paul Marai, a 22-year-old openly gay man, abstained in the vote on the ban, which took place last Nov. 16. He subsequently pledged to fight against the ban. Speaking with the media, Marai dismissed the ban as a "waste of time" that took the board’s attention away from more important business. Marai also offered his support for LeMay, saying, "I do know her to be quite a tolerant and accepting individual."
For some Catholic leaders, the issue seemingly boiled down to gay sex. The president of the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association, Nancy Kirby, told the media that, "The church teachings teach our children to accept everyone whether they’re gay or lesbian, whether they’re poor, black, white, whatever. But the church teaching also says that we don’t condone the action of gays [and] lesbians."
Another Canadian newspaper, the National Post, implied that such exclusionary practices targeting gays belongs south of the Canadian border. The article cited Pride Education Network spokesperson James Chamberlain, as noting, the article paraphrased, that "Gay-straight alliances have been subject to state-wide bans in the United States and many school boards there have tried, albeit unsuccessfully, to ban the groups." Said Chamberlain, "We’ve never heard of it happening across Canada, with a public board or a Catholic one."
Added Chamberlain, "The purpose of GSA clubs is for gay and straight youth to come together and talk about homophobia and for them to be supported."
The Catholic faith may condemn gay relationships as "intrinsically disordered," but insists upon the inherent dignity of all people, noted the head of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, James Ryan.
"The hatred of anyone is a sin and the hatred of anyone in the LGBT community is a sin," Ryan told the media. "Catholic schools are every bit opposed to homophobia as non-Catholic schools are."
The board will reconsider the ban at its Jan. 17 meeting.