Student trustees endorse gay-straight alliance

Student trustees endorse gay-straight alliance

  • June 22, 2011

Toronto Catholic student trustees are calling for the establishment of gay-straight alliances and “anti-homophobia education” in Catholic schools.

In a report tabled at the June 16 meeting of the Toronto Catholic District School Board, student trustee Natalie Rizzo  recommended implementation of an “inclusion and belonging week” in September. Rizzo said anti-homophobia education “is not sex education” and recommended it for all religion classes in elementary and high school.

The report, prepared by the TCDSB Catholic Student Leadership Impact Team, said that anti-homophobia education is in keeping with a mandate in Catholic education “to promote equality, democracy, solidarity, for a just, peaceful and compassionate society.” It also said anti-homophobia education would create a safe learning environment for all students.

In May the TCDSB passed an equity and inclusive education policy that included provisions against discrimination based on sexual orientation and said all types of social or cultural discrimination was unacceptable in its schools. Amendments have been proposed to that policy that would place even greater emphasis on the right of Catholic schools to operate according to Catholic religious beliefs.

Catholic education groups and the Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario are currently developing a framework to deal with bullying of students with same-sex attractions. That framework, however, will not include gay-straight alliances for Catholic schools but may include other types of support groups to deal with the problem from a Catholic perspective.

Rizzo, however, said that student trustees want the Toronto board to permit the same type of gay-straight alliances that are common in American schools and in several Ontario public schools.

“TCDSB students recommend that all TCDSB schools allow and provide student and/or teacher generated support, lending itself to the inclusion of students in Catholic schools who are gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgendered, by providing safe spaces for students to discuss issue surrounding homophobia and the giftedness of sexual orientation,” according to the report.

“At the discretion of the students involved, this space can be referred to as a ‘Gay-Straight Alliance,’ (GSA) but preferably named according to those students who gather,” Rizzo said.

Alan Yoshioka, a Catholic ratepayer in favour of amendments to the equity policy to place greater weight on Catholic denominational rights, expressed concern that GSAs “come with a fair amount of baggage from interests not compatible with Catholic doctrine.” He added that his group supports anti-homophobia education which focuses on teaching respect for students who are “different in their sexual inclinations.”

At a four-hour board meeting on June 16, three amendments were passed to the board’s equity policy, including one to make the policy more compatible with the catechism and other teachings of the magisterium. Five other amendments were to be considered at a June 23 board meeting. These amendments, proposed by trustees John Del Grande and Angela Kennedy, are intended to further align the equity policy with Catholic teaching.

Toronto Bishop Emeritus Pearce Lacey has lent his support to parents who have voiced concerns about the equity policy at previous board meetings and at the TCDSB’s equity consultation meetings. “The government recommends (that schools) celebrate a gay pride parade. In my mind, that should not be done. They’re advocating the practice,” Lacey told The Catholic Register.

The bishop also said he objects to the provincial government’s promotion of “homosexual clubs, gay and lesbian authors and many other controversial instructions.”

Lacey, a former Metropolitan Separate School Trustee, said safeguards are needed in the equity policy because “it is our children’s education that is very much at stake, morally at stake.”

“The very fact that we have a Catholic school system is in itself taking a stand in the field of education. We can’t practice our Catholic school education as public schools do,” he said.

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