Gay teachers' network aims to recruit Catholics

  • December 9, 2010
gay teachersTORONTO - A new teachers’ group for openly gay teachers has been created to provide a “safe environment” to discuss homophobia, said the group’s founder.

Durham District School Board kindergarten teacher Lauren Chapple started Proud Rainbow Voices last May. The 155-member group of openly gay teachers includes five Catholic school teachers, she said.

The group’s purpose is to serve as a provincial network for teachers who self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, two-spirited and queer, and provide support and strategies to address homophobia and bullying at their workplaces.

Chapple, a non-Catholic, said Proud Rainbow Voices intends to reach out to the Catholic teachers’ union. James Ryan, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, said he can’t comment on whether it will endorse the group because OECTA hasn’t received a formal request. But if a request comes, he said the association’s provincial executive will assess whether it is “in line with OECTA’s general policies.”

“I’m aware of the existence of the group but don’t know all of its particulars. OECTA does support all of our members, including our gay and lesbian members,” he said.

Ryan added that OECTA supports “the right to be free from discrimination,” regardless of sexual orientation.

Proud Rainbow Voices has members from Toronto, Sudbury, Ottawa, Windsor and a northern Ontario aboriginal reserve who teach at public and some Catholic elementary and high schools, private schools, colleges and universities. The group is beginning to branch out to more schools and boards, including Catholic schools, Chapple said.

The group is affiliated with Egale Canada, a national organization promoting the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans-identified people and their families.

“By talking to a number of Catholic members who are part of the Catholic (school) system, they feel, with the religious piece of their Church and their own personal beliefs, they feel they can’t address these issues,” Chapple said.

“But with this new equity initiative that’s coming out, we feel that’s the backbone that gives us the permission to do that.”  

The provincial government introduced a four-year equity and inclusive education strategy in 2008, providing $4 million to school boards to promote the new strategy. Within the next two years, boards are expected to have updated equity policies in place.

Chapple said the group does not support a particular political cause and is meant to help gay teachers struggling with discrimination.

In her classroom, Chapple said she teaches her students that “gay is another word for love.”

Chapple, who used to be a supply teacher with the former Welland Separate School Board, said she also uses picture and fairy tale books featuring same-sex families to teach students in Kindergarten and primary grades about equity and inclusivity.

Asked whether books featuring same-sex families would be classroom material that OECTA would endorse, Ryan said “it’s a good idea that we use curriculum material that are anti-discriminatory, but it’s not OECTA’s call.” OECTA has never taken a position on individual reading materials, he said, adding it’s up to the teacher and the school board.

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