Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA)

OECTA supports students’ rights to form GSAs in Catholic schools

  • June 6, 2012

TORONTO - Despite concerns expressed by Cardinal Thomas Collins, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) says it supports students’ rights to form gay-straight alliances (GSA) in Catholic schools.

In a May 29 news release, OECTA president Kevin O’Dwyer said, “Providing safe, inclusive environments and eliminating bullying wherever we can is paramount. If the students feel that a club should be called a GSA — that it makes a difference to them — then, we respect and accept that choice.”

The OECTA statement came a day after Collins publicly questioned Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and his government for an amendment to its Bill-13 that would prevent Catholic schools from blocking GSAs, and a week before Bill-13 was passed in the Ontario Legislature.

“We’re concerned to make sure that any kind of group or club that students initiate is going to be run with respect,” said O’Dwyer. “To OECTA, what a student chooses to name it isn’t really a big focus.”

According to its release, OECTA said research shows students who identify as being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender have a significantly higher potential of being bullied and are three times more likely to commit suicide and that risks are lower for students who attend a school where there is access to a GSA.

One former union member believes OECTA was wrong to issue a statement contrary to the cardinal’s position.

“OECTA has made a big mistake,” said Lou Iacobelli, who retired in 2008 after 33 years of teaching with the Toronto Catholic District School Board. “I regret that they’re going in this direction. I actually feel sorry for teachers who have to pay dues to a union that no longer reflects their views on this issue.”

For Iacobelli, Bill-13’s required acceptance of GSAs in Catholic high schools forces teachers to support the gay, bisexual and transgender agenda, views that don’t reflect Catholic teachings. His solution is for those opposed to engage in civil disobedience.

“My advice to teachers, to people who don’t believe in (this) law, is to simply not obey it. And I don’t say that lightly,” said Iacobelli.

When presented with this criticism, O’Dwyer pulled back on support for the name GSA but maintained he sees value in the support group approach to reducing bullying.

“If the wording is going to polarize and politicize things, OECTA is of the mindset that we step away from the language,” said O’Dwyer. “Whatever the name of the club is is not an issue for OECTA.”

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