Catholic schools should accept GSAs, conference told

  • November 3, 2011

MISSISSAUGA, ONT. - Teachers should address homophobia in Catholic schools and embrace the objective of gay-straight alliances, two presenters told delegates at a major education conference.

Kevin Welbes Godin, chair of the Catholic Association of Religious and Family Life Educators, and co-presenter Dave Szolloy, religious department head at Scarborough’s Mother Teresa Catholic High School, said GSAs are necessary to combat bullying in Catholic schools. They were speaking to about 30 teachers Oct. 28 at the When Faith Meets Pedagogy conference.

Their workshop, titled “Homophobia in Catholic schools,” comes as Ontario’s bishops, Catholic trustees, teachers and parents are finalizing a framework to be implemented in the province’s Catholic schools to address bullying of students with same-sex attraction. That framework is unlikely to include GSAs but is expected to permit establishment of groups that adhere to Church teaching in providing support for students being bullied due to sexual orientation. 

The coming framework is in response to the Dalton McGuinty government’s equity and inclusive education policy. That policy has come under fire from Catholics who say it advocates a morality that contradicts Catholic teaching on marriage and sexuality. 

Szolloy said reported suicides of gay youth require immediate action. He said the government directive is “unambiguous” and “calls upon school staff to give support to students to participate in (GSAs) and other student activities that promote the development of understanding of healthy relationships.”

In July, former education minister Leona Dombrowsky said that although all schools are required to provide support for gay students, GSAs are not mandatory and, in the case of Catholic schools, the government will respect their “constitutional right to teach their faith in their schools.”

Welbes Godin said “the bishops are giving us permission to do (this anti-bullying) work.”

The bishops released a statement earlier this year that said the debate around GSAs is being complicated by the fact the people are failing to distinguish between the objective of reducing bullying and the particular strategy of GSAs. Confronting bullying of all types is an objective heartily promoted by the bishops; establishing GSAs is one strategy to achieve that objective, but is not a strategy advocated by the bishops.

“It is not right or fair to suggest that one particular strategy is the only way to achieve a given goal,” the statement said.

According to Szolloy, “the bishops see this whole thing of gay-straight alliances as a way of fulfilling that aspect” of preventing bullying. “The difficulty is in the naming (of the group)” at Catholic schools, Szolloy said.

“The gap right now is what is there other than the gay-straight alliance?” said Welbes Godin, who referred teachers to the Canadian Teachers’ Federation handbook and the web site for information.

Szolloy said discussing anti-bullying solutions does not mean being in “conflict” with the bishops.

Both presenters opened the workshop with a brief history of the dialogue on “homophobia in Catholic schools,” referring to the Marc Hall case where the Durham Catholic board prohibited Hall from bringing his boyfriend to the prom and highlighting the 1997 case of a York Catholic school teacher who was dismissed because he was in a same-sex relationship.

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