Teachers objecting to OECTA Pride participation feel their voice is unheard

  • June 27, 2014

TORONTO - Some Ontario Catholic teachers who think the World Pride Parade is no place for their union to have representation have expressed their thoughts but feel their voice has gone unheard. 

“Many of us from within the ranks of OECTA (Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association) have strongly voiced our opposition to these recent directives with the leadership of OECTA,” said Michael MacDonald, religion department head at Corpus Christi Secondary School in Burlington, Ont. “Sadly our protestations have largely fallen on deaf ears and hardened heart.” 

The decision to have volunteer representation at the World Pride Parade, to be held in Toronto June 29, came out of OECTA’s annual general meeting in March. Although there will be no official OECTA float the union has registered for the parade so that as many as 100 members can march behind an official banner. 

Following the meeting MacDonald sent a letter expressing his concerns to OECTA president James Ryan and local president Keith Boyd. Only Boyd has responded to MacDonald’s letter which leaves him further “disappointed” with his union. 

“I have no response from James Ryan and I really did expect one.” 

While MacDonald believes the decision to take part in the parade is rooted in good intentions the setting is entirely wrong. That’s because the parade promotes a culture counter to Catholic teaching. 

“The intentions of the policy makers at OECTA may be noble but the optics concerning the conflicting messages being sent undermines Catholic teaching,” said MacDonald, a father of two Catholic school students. “The parade’s annual celebratory lewd and explicitly dehumanizing promiscuity notwithstanding, this event acclaims and commemorates the increasing hostility in the secular world towards Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular. The Catholic Church does not discriminate against the LGBTQ community when it rightly condemns sexual promiscuity and homosexual sexual actions as intrinsically evil; there is a distinction between the sin and the sinner.” 

OECTA taking part in the parade risks blurring that distinction for students by sending “conflicting messages about this aspect of Catholic teaching,” he said. 

Maria Bassi, a special education resource teacher at St. Ignatius of Loyola Catholic Secondary School in Oakville, Ont., agrees completely with MacDonald. 

“As well intended as OECTA may be, the leadership and those at the AGM (annual general meeting) who voted in favour of sending a delegation to march in the Pride Parade this June are misguided,” said Bassi. “Many of my colleagues at Loyola feel the same way.” 

Both teachers side with remarks made by Toronto’s Cardinal Thomas Collins, who said the OECTA officials who passed the decision have “an inadequate and mistaken understanding of their faith,” which does not represent genuine Catholic teachers beyond bureaucracy. 

“I concur with Cardinal Collins that OECTA is not the Catholic teachers, it is a union whose competence is limited to collective bargaining and labour-related issues,” said Bassi. “It is not clear to me why my labour union is participating in a parade that is not labour-related.” 

MacDonald added that “OECTA does not speak for all Catholic teachers when it unwittingly or otherwise adopts policies that seem to support or underwrite obeisance to falsehood.” 

But not all of the province’s Catholic teachers are opposed to OECTA marching in the parade. Karen Eckert, a Catholic teacher in Toronto, said she looks forward to being part of the official OECTA delegation. 

“I support OECTA being in the Pride Parade because that parade is one of the few ways I know that one can send out the message that you don’t have to feel ashamed to be gay; you may be in the minority but you can feel proud of who you are,” she said. “Jesus stood up for the outcasts and the marginalized in society and that is all we are doing.” 

Last year Eckert, along with eight other Catholic teachers, marched in the parade to show their support for the province’s students who struggle socially with their sexual orientation. 

“Gay students are some of the most vulnerable and most bullied students in our schools,” said the English and French teacher from Cardinal Carter Academy for the Arts. “When they are rejected by their families, they are 8.4 times more likely to commit suicide. Supporting them visibly is the loving thing to do.” 

A number of years ago Eckert experienced a Filipino student, who was in her Grade 11 class, struggling with his homosexuality “whose mother told him she fears he will go to hell and whose father must be kept in the dark for fear of his reaction. I remember thinking at the time how awful it must be.” 

For Eckert reducing this kind of discrimination outweighs the danger participating in the parade poses. 

“In regard to the nudity and sexual content of the parade, our students are not stupid, they will look at the big picture and understand that in a world where there is so much pain caused by ignorance and prejudice, the teachers are doing the right thing by marching,” she said. “The message the students will get is one of hope for themselves and for their future.” 

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