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GSAs Response by Catholic Groups Gets Failing Grade

May 18th, 2011


For Immediate Release

The Assembly of Catholic Bishops of Ontario (ACBO) and the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association (OCSTA) recently released a memo in response to the ongoing controversy regarding student requests to set up and operate Gay Straight Alliances (GSAs) within Ontario’s publicly funded Catholic secondary school system.   Unfortunately, the framework and initiative being developed fails to address the requests of queer-identified and straight supportive students, provincial policy on the matter and protections in the Ontario Human Rights Code.

The ACBO and OCSTA are currently working in collaboration with the Institute for Catholic Education (ICE) on a nameless framework featuring an anti-bullying initiative that focuses on sexual orientation.  The emphasis is on enhancing existing resources on anti-bullying within Catholic School Boards, with a particular focus on sexual orientation, yet guided by the Catholic faith.

Although details of this plan are yet to be released, this stated emphasis is problematic on numerous fronts.  First and foremost, despite ACBO and OCSTA’s claim that this initiative will address the current needs of students, it is in fact a drastic curtailing of the actual needs of students requesting GSAs.  GSAs provide supportive environments in which students gather to address not only bullying and safety concerns, but also to develop welcoming environments, raise public awareness by participating in national LGBTQ-positive campaigns and local initiatives, networking and linking to community resources and training for youth leadership – all of which is focused both on sexual orientation and gender identity.  The ACBO and OCSTA framework is narrowly restricted to anti-bullying and sexual orientation.   This framework prohibits any discussion of diversity in relationships and lifestyle and completely omits the needs of students dealing with issues of gender identity and gender expression.

If ACBO and OCSTA are positing this initiative as a compromise, it fails to measure up to provincial policy on the subject that explicitly states, “Boards must also help school staff to give support to students who wish to participate in gay-straight alliances and in other student-led activities that promote understanding and development of healthy relationships” (PPM 145). Yet, despite this, the provincial Ministry of Education has neither indicated whether they will implement their policy nor publicly endorse the ACBO-OCSTA initiative.  In an accompanying message to their memo, ACBO and OCSTA state, “Catholic schools are known as places that embrace inclusivity, equity and the acceptance of all people”, yet this is clearly contradicted by the Pastoral Guidelines to Assist Students of Same-Sex Orientation, a document the Institute for Catholic Education was involved in the production of, in which same-sex attractions and desires are discouraged, seen as unnatural and denigrated. We see the position taken on same-sex attractions in the pastoral guidelines as an active disavowal of the humanity and dignity of an equity-seeking group in Canada, especially in a Charter era in Canada. We maintain that compelling Catholic educators to follow such guidelines represents a grievous contravention of the Ontario Human Rights Code, particularly given that the Catholic school system is publicly funded in this province.

As well, in an April 27th interview with the Toronto Star, Nancy Kirby, President of the OCSTA asserts that GSAs will continue to be banned because they are “associated with activist groups, and the purpose of our clubs will be to provide support, not activism”. We challenge this not only because any work that is done to demystify stereotypes and eliminate discrimination/oppression is a form of activism but also, there is a clear inequity being  exposed here in what types of activism are considered acceptable versus unacceptable by Catholic school boards. Every year, Catholic schools pack busloads of students and head to Ottawa for the Canada National March for Life- an anti-abortion rights rally. If this type of activism which seeks to limit the reproductive choices of women is acceptable, we question how activism that seeks to improve the learning environments for all students is considered ‘bad’ activism? Queer Ontario views this not only as an affront to the rights of youth to assemble and voice their agency but also, a systemic condoning of activism that suits the church while leveraging discriminatory activism where the church’s needs are not suited.

Therefore, it is Queer Ontario’s position that the ACBO and OCSTA anti-bullying related sexual orientation initiative will not adequately provide all that can be provided by the establishment of GSAs, that it does not meet the standards of provincial policy, and that in combination with the Pastoral Guidelines contravenes the Ontario Human Rights Code.  Most importantly, this initiative fails to address the actual needs of LGBTQ-identified and straight supporting students to have the GSAs they requested and for these reasons, Queer Ontario feels this initiative is a failed attempt at addressing an important issue.

Queer Ontario is a provincially based network of individuals who are members of the gender and sexually diverse populations and their allies committed to liberationist and sex positive principles that focus on questioning, challenging and seeking reform to social norms and laws that regulate queer people. Queer Ontario engages in public education, political action, promoting access and diversity and coalition building.



For interviews, please contact:

Nick Mulé
Queer Ontario

Casey Oraa
Chairperson, Political Action Committee
Queer Ontario

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