Prominent gay rights advocate Ilana Landsberg-Lewis is to speak at the upcoming OECTA conference.

OECTA choice ‘undermines’ Catholics

  • June 8, 2011

TORONTO - Campaign Life Coalition says the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association’s choice of prominent gay rights advocate Ilana Landsberg-Lewis to speak at its upcoming conference is “outrageous” and “undermines” Catholic values.

Landsberg-Lewis will be one of the guest speakers at OECTA’s “Common Good Conference: The Soul of Teaching — Changing the Human Condition” which runs July 6 to 8 in Toronto. She is the executive director of the Stephen Lewis Foundation and daughter of Stephen Lewis, a former UN special envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa and a renowned abortion advocate.

Landsberg-Lewis is not an appropriate speaker at a Catholic teachers’ conference because her views on abortion and same-sex marriage reject core Catholic teachings, said Jim Hughes, Campaign Life president.

“Every time one of the Lewises shows up, it undermines who we are as Catholics. There are many other speakers who can speak up on other positive topics that don’t outrage Catholic parents,” said Hughes. “This is another example of why Catholic parents feel they are being undermined by the Catholic teachers.”

Hughes’ objection is not only because of Landsberg-Lewis’ views but also the timing of her speech. Over the past year, there has been heated debate over gay-straight alliances in Ontario’s Catholic high schools.

OECTA president James Ryan said Landsberg-Lewis is a “real champion of the rights of women and girls (and) human rights.”

Ryan said OECTA is a “pro-life organization” and says “We agree to disagree” with Landsberg-Lewis’ views on abortion. But they hold the same views on other issues that reflect Catholic values, such as “on euthanasia, the issue of sexism, not allowing people to starve to death in Africa.”

On her political activism for gay rights — Landsberg-Lewis wed musician Lorraine Segato last year —  Ryan said one of OECTA’s pro-life statements is that homophobia “is a threat to life.”

“The problem of some of these groups (who complain) is they administer a purity test to speakers” which would screen out an “overwhelming majority who do social justice work,” Ryan said.

Hughes said Campaign Life Coalition plans to register a complaint with OECTA.

This isn’t the first time the Lewis family has attracted controversy for speaking engagements with Catholic groups. On May 31, the Catholic Curriculum Corporation withdrew Stephen Lewis as keynote speaker for the annual “When Faith Meets Pedagogy Conference” for teachers this October. And his talk in February at the London, Ont.-based Monsignor Feeney Foundation for Catholic Schools also drew controversy.

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