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Catholic schools now allow anti-bullying groups, but still no GSAs

Catholic schools now allow anti-bullying groups, but still no GSAs

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Students told GSAs breed activism
Ontario Catholic schools have been given the green-light to allow anti-bullying groups, but steps are being taken to ensure groups don’t adopt names that are "too gay-sounding."

The students at St Joseph Catholic Secondary School chose Rainbow Alliance, but the principal rejected it, telling 16-year-old Mississauga student Leanne Iskander that the name is “too LGBT-sounding.”

Iskander is one of nine students throwing their hats into the ring for a spot on a new provincial committee made up of clergy, trustees, administrators, parents and educators who will decide what’s best for Catholic students demanding gay-straight alliances (GSAs) in their schools. One of the big issues the committee will tackle is what to call the groups.

As announced in an April 15 memo sent to all Ontario Catholic school boards, the Assembly of Catholic Bishops and the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association (OCSTA) are forming a committee to finalize a “framework” to guide school clubs addressing “bullying related to sexual orientation.”

President of the OCSTA Nancy Kirby tells Xtra that GSAs are still banned at all Ontario Catholic schools. That’s because a GSA signals to students that the group is focused on activism, she explains.

“It won’t be a gay-straight alliance,” she says. “When I look at a gay-straight alliance, I see an activist group. We are answering the students' request for support and assistance, not for activism. Students don’t want to become activists; they want to be supported in being bullied by their peers.”

Is standing up against anti-gay bullying not activism? “In some ways it could be and in other ways it isn’t,” she says. The groups will all have a “common name.”

“We don’t know what that name will be,” Kirby says. “All we know is, up until recently, we felt the resources we had in place at our schools were supporting all of our students from bullying.”

For the St Joe’s students, it means they will get a club, even if it remains unnamed. Principal Frances Jacques is pushing for the group to be called “Open Arms,” Iskander says.

“[At a meeting on April 26] the principal just kept saying, ‘It’s not a GSA. It’s not a GSA.’ She doesn’t like the political aspect and the political affiliation,” she says. “The principal won’t let us have anything remotely LGBT for the name. All the students have an issue with this. How will new students know about it?”

“We are going to get together to come up with some more names to propose to her. So we’ll see how that goes.”


Iskander first became involved in the fight for GSAs when her request was denied in March. Her group started with 32 students and now has 40. Since going public, the students have faced vicious bullying in class and online, illustrating why a GSA is so important.

The St Joe’s students are planning an anti-homophobia event on June 3 at the school. Iskander says the event will double as the official launch of the club.

“We’ll probably put up a big booth in the atrium,” she says. “We want it to be as big and noticeable as possible.”

Meanwhile, the provincial committee met for the first time April 28 and will begin work May 1, OCSTA’s Kirby says. The goal is to have a framework in place by September to give to Catholic school boards.

The final list of committee members is not finalized. There will be representation from likely only one student, Kirby says. The president of the Ontario Student Trustees' Association has already been invited. “We want someone from each of the ICE (Institute of Catholic Education) sectors.”

Kirby says it’s too early to say if the groups will focus solely on gay, lesbian and trans issues, or if the groups will be “umbrella equity clubs.”

The memo states that the groups will have a “Catholic perspective,” meaning the Pastoral Guidelines to Assist Students of Same-Sex Orientation will most likely be used to guide discussions.

The pastoral guidelines, developed by the bishops at ICE, reads that "gay" is not an identity, gay sex is “immoral and sinful” and gay people ought to live a life of “chastity.” It is the primary document for instructing school administrators and teachers on homosexuality.

Kirby said unequivocally that the groups will not use Courage International as a resource or council students that they can be “cured” in any way. Courage uses the 12-step program developed by Alcoholics Anonymous to pray the gay away.

Xtra reported in March that pamphlets were available to students in the St Joe’s guidance office and the principal handed them out to teachers at a staff meeting. Kirby says Courage is “definitely not” a resource used at any other Ontario Catholic school.

“Courage pamphlets should never have been given to students,” she said sternly. “That was the first time I had ever heard of it. That was just one principal and [the pamphlets] have been pulled.”

Archbishop Thomas Collins was unavailable for comment.

GSAs started making headlines in January after Xtra reported a ban on the student clubs by the Halton Catholic District School Board. Board chair Alice Anne LeMay told Xtra then that the board “doesn’t allow Nazi groups either. Gay-straight alliances are banned because they are not within the teachings of the Catholic Church.”

Xtra revealed in February that GSAs are forbidden at all Ontario Catholic schools.

Kirby says that, slowly, the church is changing. “The church realizes there are people in our world, in our schools, who are gay or lesbian, and it’s not a sickness.”

Comments

Catholic schools uphold Catholic teaching
Catholic teaching is that God created sex to be only between people who are married to each other. Why should a CATHOLIC school be expected to allow any group there to speak against Catholic teaching? Bullying of gays should not be allowed, but that doesn't mean that students should be taught that sex outside of marriage is ok.
Is it really 'too early to say'??
Quote: Kirby says it’s too early to say if the groups will focus solely on gay, lesbian and trans issues, or if the groups will be “umbrella equity clubs.” What a joke. How much time does it take? The Catholic Boards have had over 2 years to figure out how they'll implement the Ministry's Equity Strategy Policy. Every word that has come out of the Catholic school system's mouth has been designed to try to put lipstick on a pig: The ugly truth is that GSAs do not AND WILL NOT ever exist in a Catholic school in Ontario. There is a de facto ban. But OCTSA, the Catholic Boards and the bishops are doing everything possible to obscure this ugly, medieval fact. Stop letting them get away with it. If you want public funding, start acting like a public institution and ditch the medieval discrimination. The Constitution must be amended to close this archaic loophole.
Irony in the acronmym GSA
support and assistance = a group that accepts homosexuality is wrong and tries to help students deal with what is wrong with them activism = a group that realizes society has hangups about gender (largely due to women's historic subordination) and works to educate and change laws to make all citizens free from stigma No wonder the Catholic school board is not looking to have "activist" gay groups in schools. Too much questioning of power figures. Ironically, GSA could stand for Gay Support and Assistance. Too weird. End public support of Catholic schools!
Proposed general groups are about shame not pride
The Assembly of Catholic Bishops and the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association are trying to get ahead of this grassroots student movement for GSAs in Catholic schools by taking control of it and setting restrictive parameters. It is amazing to me that they cannot see how their refusal to allow students to name their own club with any kind of name that may sound too gay affirming is itself an example of the homophobia that GSAs are designed to redress. It appears these Catholic education leaders are prepared to allow students to discuss the hard parts of being lgbtq (experiencing homophobic bullying) but not the beautiful parts of being lgbtq (falling in love, going to dances, celebrating pride day). These Catholic education leaders are proposing that any general club that attends to homophobia must be guided by the Ontario bishops' pastoral guidelines -- a doom and gloom document that instills shame in being lgbtq. So, lgbtq students in Catholic schools are supposed to join a club to discuss homophobic bullying and learn the official Catholic teachings on non-heterosexuality. This is the antithesis of a Gay/Straight Alliance.
what a load of bullshit!
"OCSTA Nancy Kirby tells Xtra gay-straight alliances are still banned at all Ontario Catholic schools. That’s because a GSA signals to students that the group is focused on activism, she explains." Right, so now we're to believe that GSA aren't being banned because of their pro-LGBT nature, they're banned because they're focused on activism. That's as big a load of shit as their belief that LGBT teenagers are too young to have a sexual orientation. What that statement does show is that they're not going to allow anything that challenges their Catholic view that LGBT people are disordered, a perversion of nature that needs to be fought the same as climate change is fought as the Pope has dictated in the recent past. They know they're wrong on this issue as educators and presumably people with some sense of shame at what they're doing to their LGBT students I'm sure but they're stuck by the ignorance and backwards thinking of the institutions of their religion, where old men who have no experience or understanding about being an LGBT teenager, beyond what they can glean from a book of iron-age myths, dictate the policies of many of our publicly funded schools. That's the Ontario Council of Bishops btw and they should have no say in how Catholic schools are run beyond perhaps the contents of their courses on religion. Why should we tolerate a group of catholic bishops determining policy in public schools? even if they are Catholic they're still public schools. We elect people in this country to do that for us, who voted for the Ontario Council of Bishops and who are they responsible too? no one that's who. I say unless the bishops are willing to butt out of the education business then Catholic schools must be de-funded. Let the bishops stand for election like everyone else and push their beliefs that way. This sort of discrimination is intolerable in this day and age especially when its paid for by public dollars.
Bigger than group now!
I understand and respect Ms. Iskander postion. This has become a larger issue now and, these Pastoral Guidelines that people speak of. This is what needs to be challenged, it's like oh those are the guildlines. Well the guildlines are Wrong!! They teach "discrimination". It's not not about a group anymore. This is a HUGE issue!!! Don't allow them to get away with this! anti-bully, Who's the bully here?
Absurd
Congrats on the microscopic baby steps Catholic Board has made! Don't worry we all know that the board hasn't changed their perspective in the slightest and have made every effort to appear progressive, while still maintaining its intolerant views. We should give credit where credit is due with the Catholic Board's PR team. I mean I don't know if there is any other organization that is able to twist and spin something so effectively. The idea of having an 'anti bullying club' to combat homophobia, while not talking about the issues that LGBT students face/denying their sexuality has to be one of the most ironic and twisted ideas that I've heard all month, and we're in a federal election.
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