Catholic school boards need anti-homophobia policies

  • October 28, 2010
Kevin Welbes GodinMISSISSAUGA, Ont. - A “courageous conversation” needs to happen at Ontario’s Catholic schools to combat homophobia as boards implement the provincial government’s new equity policy, says a prominent educator.

Kevin Welbes Godin told a symposium that “silence is no longer acceptable” when it comes to the absence of anti-homophobia policies in some Ontario Catholic boards.

But other comments during the workshop upset some teachers who said Welbes Godin and co-presenter David Szollosy were misinterpreting the position of the Ontario bishops and that their views on gay support groups were not in keeping with Church teaching.

Welbes Godin is the chair of the Catholic Association of Religious and Family Life Educators of Ontario (CARFLEO). Szollosy is chaplain at Scarborough’s Blessed Mother Teresa High School. On Oct. 22 they presented a workshop at the annual “When Faith Meets Pedagogy” conference titled, “That’s so Gay!: Beyond Homophobia By Building Inclusive Communities Within Catholic Schools.”

They called for implementation of anti-homophobic policies in all Catholic schools. Welbes Godin said he supports the position of the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario in which the bishops have called on educators to draft a “Catholic version” of the provincial government’s new equity policy.

The province launched a policy in April 2009 requiring all school boards to develop equity policies that are in alignment with Ontario’s Human Rights Code. With respect to sexual orientation, Ontario bishops expressed concern that this could mean promoting school clubs such as gay-straight alliances, where openly gay students work with straight students to raise awareness about gay issues. The bishops advised the Catholic boards that certain aspects of the ministry’s new directives concerning “students who self-identify as homosexual” were in conflict with the bishops’ pastoral guidelines.

Although Welbes Godin expressed support for the bishops’ position, some teachers objected to his  interpretation of the bishops’ statement, claiming the presenters were promoting principles that contradict Church teachings. The teachers said that the new policy must reflect Catholic values as stated by the bishops.

The bishops have called for schools to “respect Catholic moral values” and to ensure that health curriculum reflects Catholic moral principles. Each board will develop its own policy.

Szolloy said students who are targeted by bullies because of sexual orientation require support and assistance. He said the bishops’ statement that discouraged gay-straight alliances didn’t mean that anti-homophobia groups weren’t welcome.

“The practice of having a group of students together to combat homophobia is okay, but just don’t call them gay-straight alliance,” Szolloy said.

It’s important to implement the ministry’s mandatory policy, Szolloy said, because student suicides are highest among those who are bullied because of their sexual orientation.

Mary Ann Martin, a trustee with the Durham Catholic board, said she didn’t agree with the workshop’s premise that “everyone is homophobic.”

Martin told The Register she objected to the workshop opening by presenting the cases of a York Catholic teacher who was dismissed following a commitment ceremony to his same-sex partner, and a former Durham student, Marc Hall, who won a legal victory allowing him to bring his boyfriend to the school prom. Martin rejected the premise that these were examples of homophobia in Catholic schools.

Martin, who was Durham’s board chair during the Hall case in 2002, said Hall was not bullied in school for being gay.

“Because we, as Catholics, are taught — and in the teachings of the Church — (that) we don’t support the gay lifestyle but (we support) the person. That does not make us homophobic,” Martin said.

Szolloy said his presentation was not about “promoting any kind of sexual behaviour but (about) creating a safe environment for all students.” At his high school, Szollosy said a homophobic physical attack on a student two years ago highlights why support groups are needed.

Some teachers defended the workshop. Gary Connolly, a teacher at Caledon’s Robert F. Hall High School, said the discussion is about empowering students.

“We’re struggling in the Church with whether homosexuality is acceptable or not,” he said. “As a Church, if we’re not going to address this as a civil rights issue, then we have a real problem.”

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