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Halton's new GSA ban puts Catholic school funds at risk, trustee says


Halton's new GSA ban puts Catholic school funds at risk, trustee says

Gay-positive groups 'hostile': community feedback
Gay-straight alliances (GSAs) remain banned at the Halton Catholic District School Board (HDCSB), and the “hard-line position” taken by trustees is contributing to the increasing onslaught of demands across Ontario to scrap funding for the Catholic school system, one trustee says.

Paul Marai was the only trustee to vote against the revised equity and inclusive education policy March 23. The board voted overwhelmingly in favour of allowing students to form general equity clubs dubbed By Your SIDE Spaces (an acronym for safety, inclusivity, diversity and equity) in place of GSAs. The move means there are still no GSAs in any Catholic schools in the province.

“There are students at this school board who want to start a GSA and they will not be allowed to,” Marai says. “I am against this ban on GSAs, and I think the hardline approach is alienating Ontarians as a whole on the issue of public funding. There is a risk now that there will be louder calls for the funding of Catholic schools to be cut.”

Student trustee Christiane Peric spoke in favour of the By Your SIDE Spaces.

“Bureaucrats and politicians across the province don’t know better than the students,” Marai says. “Students across the province have been asking for GSAs in larger and larger numbers.”

Back in January Xtra broke the news that the HCDSB banned GSAs. When questioned, HCDSB board chair Alice Anne LeMay told Xtra the board “doesn’t allow Nazi groups either. Gay-straight alliances are banned because they are not within the teachings of the Catholic Church.” In the face of national outrage, the HCDSB lifted the ban on GSAs, but it still does not allow any student group with the word "gay" in its title.

In February the board’s rewritten policy was sent out to the community for consultation. The policy continues to include "supports" that follow the Pastoral Guidelines to Assist Students of Same-Sex Orientation, a document written by the bishops and used to write the equity policy, as well as to train staff, educators and parents. It explicitly prohibits gay sexual activity and states that gays must live a “moral life” or accept “a life of chastity.”

More than 300 people and organizations contributed feedback to the HCDSB. Many parents told the board to keep GSAs out of schools. Several others told the board GSAs don’t comply with the Catholic Church’s stance on homosexuality, which calls gay sex “sinful.”

“There were hundreds of letters, both for and against the policy,” Marai insists. “But there were hundreds of emails not included in the feedback package from across Ontario, not just Halton.”

One group says GSAs have no place in Catholic schools. Simply signed “concerned Catholics,” the group says gay students should “turn away from sin,” before listing several references to scripture. The letter states, “We strongly feel that there is no place in Catholic schools for gay and lesbian clubs, not because we hate people of such orientation, but because this type of behaviour is not in line with Catholic doctrine.”

Another letter suggests every school should have a Courage International chapter. Courage “ministers to those with same-sex attractions" and counsels gay people “to abstain from acting on their sexual desires and to live chastely according to the Catholic Church's teachings.”

Courage International also uses the 12-step program developed by Alcoholics Anonymous to try to “cure” gays.

“A GSA will only cause further confusion in these children,” the letter states. “We believe that Catholic schools need a Courage Apostolate started in every school… to show that people can be healed of same-sex attractions.”

One writer opposes gay-positive groups of any name, even general equity clubs. Several other letters say gays and lesbians are “suffering” from an addiction and should be cured. Marai calls some of the feedback “pretty shocking.”

“Gay-straight alliance groups are intrinsically hostile to Catholic teachings on human sexuality,” states a letter from the Knights of Columbus. “They are not satisfied with tolerance of a homosexual lifestyle, they will accept nothing less than full acceptance of such behaviour.”

The policy will return to the board for a final vote April 5.

Meanwhile, at St Joseph’s Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga 32 students were blocked when they asked to start a GSA in March. Their principal, Frances Jacques, says there are already supports in place at the school, such as guidance counsellors. Also, they were told, a GSA is “premature” for their age.

The group’s founder, Leanne Iskander, 16, set up a public Facebook group and has since mobilized support.

Iskander’s story led NDP MPP Rosario Marchese to raise the issue in question period at Queen’s Park on March 21. Premier Dalton McGuinty dodged the question, saying GSAs are not mandatory and Catholic schools can create “alternatives.” Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky has remained silent since January, refusing numerous interview requests from Xtra.

Then, on March 22, Egale Canada released an open letter to Dombrowsky calling on the minister to enforce the policy and “take a principled stance” on discrimination against gay, lesbian and trans youth in Catholic schools.

“The fact that the DPCDSB is disallowing GSAs and promoting Courage International conflicts with this DPCDSB policy statement,” writes Helen Kennedy, executive director of Egale. "Students from schools with GSAs are much more likely to agree that their school communities are supportive of LGBTQ people, are much more likely to be open with some or all of their peers about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity, and are more likely to see their school climate as becoming less homophobic."
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You're right -- It doesn't reflect well
You're absolutely right Chuck. It doesn't reflect well. The discrimination in the system (whereby only Catholics school choice is funded) has also been slammed by the UN Human Rights Committee.

What is really strange are the contradictions that Catholic school funding creates. Ontario permits abortion, but also funds a school system that teaches some children it is an evil akin to murder. Ontario is known as a generally gay tolerant jurisdiction that permits gay marriage, but on the other hand funds a school system that teaches some children that gays are "intrinsically disorderd" folk who should try to cure themselves or who should live a life of chastity.

Didn't Jesus Christ himself say that a house divided against itself cannot stand? Will Ontario fall, fully transforming into a Catholic theocracy? Or will Ontario finally expunge the elements of Catholic theocracy we have now?
This does not reflect well on Canada.
I love Canada. I've always felt that Canadians were far more civilized than their neighbors to the south. And I especially appreciate that Gay couples in Canada are allowed to marry. But this situation at the Halton Catholic Distric School Board is troubling. I don't have a problem with churches being allowed to deny wedding ceremonies to anyone they wish, and I think privately-funded Catholic schools should be allowed to conduct their own affairs as they see fit. But if these schools are acting in a clearly discriminatory fashion toward their Gay students and their supporters, how is it that they can continue to receive public funding? I wouldn't not want MY hard-earned tax dollars going to fund organizations and institutions that discriminated against ME! This situation does NOT reflect well on Canada.
Ontario bishops recommend Courage too
Hi Andrea! Thanks, again, for another great article. I am so pleased that you are bringing more attention to the Ontario bishops’ Pastoral Guidelines to Assist Students of Same-Sex Orientation (PGASO). I am not sure if you know this already, but there is a little-known footnote to one of the three personal testimonials collected in the Ontario bishops’ guideline, PGASO, which recommends Courage as a valuable resource for queers. This same footnote also informs Ontarian readers of the PGASO that individual chapters of the Courage corrective12-Step program operate in Ontario with the permission of their diocesan bishop. Furthermore, the authors of the PGASO assure readers in Ontario that local Courage chapters are fully endorsed by the Pontifical Council for the Family, which is part of the Curia, or administrative apparatus, of the Roman Catholic Church in Rome (Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2004, p. 14). So, it’s not just the brochure put out by the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board that recommends Courage, but the overarching policy document, the PGASO, which, as you know, is meant to be used in all Catholic schools throughout Ontario. I think many Ontarians would be alarmed to learn that the bishops of Ontario fully endorse Courage in their pastoral guideline, which is meant to help non-heterosexuals in Catholic schools but is actually extremely harmful.
Actually, they don't need to follow public rules
And this is bad. Very bad. Catholic school boards have an absolute right to discriminate against non-Catholic children in admissions until grade 9, when "open access" is supposed to apply. Catholic school boards are free to discriminate against non-Catholic teachers at all grade levels. Gay kids are only their latest victims. Two thirds of the population, the non-Catholics, bear the same tax burden as Catholics, but have fewer publicly funded school options, whether as a student or as a teacher. It's time we got rid of this archaic relic from 19th century Ontario. There is no need to segregate Catholics and Protestants anymore. It is time our government was religiously neutral -- not overtly favouring a single sect of a single faith.
Public schools, public rules
Catholic schools in Ontario are public schools. That is, they are publicly funded. Therefore, they need to follow the public rules, including Memo 145, which requires boards and staff to support students in creation of GSAs. If they don't want to do this, they simply need to be cut off from tax revenue (as they should also be if they discriminate on the bases of religion or nonbelief).
Copypasta Populi Z
Seems that every Xtra article now has the same set of 3 comments (verbatim et literatum) from "Vox" character. My message to you, sir or ma'am: Clearly you love being a Catholic. Good for you. But it may come as a surprise that other people have different religions. In fact, some want nothing to do with religion at all. As a matter of fact, the more I read your spam, the more certain I am there is no loving god out there. "What Would Jesus Do?" Here's the irony: Jesus would side with the oppressed (gays) and against the discriminatory Pharisees (the Bishops and their peons). Anyway, it's clearly time to close the Constitutional loophole on this absurd anachronism. Until that happens, Canada remains in the Dark Ages with the Church very much in bed with the state. Public funding should be for public schools only.
Point being?
@Vox Populi:

So what's your point?

I respect your right to believe what you want, but please don't expect me to support your specific beliefs by using taxpayers money to fuel outdated ignorance and homophobia. Catholics ask those that don't share their views to respect them, yet don't see the hypocrisy when they themselves don't respect others' rights.
Catholics will provide for their students.
The debate surrounding Homosexual/Straight Alliances (GSAs) in Catholic high schools is being complicated by the fact that people are not distinguishing between an objective and a strategy. GSAs are a strategy that some people propose to achieve an objective with which the Bishops of Ontario are in agreement: that all students in schools feel safe and respected. The Catholic objective is that each student be treated with dignity, for each is a child of God. It is not right or fair to suggest that one particular strategy is the only way to achieve a given goal. Catholics seek to achieve the goal of a safe and loving environment for all students in a way that is in harmony with their Christian faith.
Catholic schools are constitutionally protected.
The constitutionally provided mandate of Halton separate (Catholic) schools is to provide education in a school setting that is reflective of Roman Catholic theology, doctrine, and practices. This mandate can manifest itself in the Program of Studies and the curriculum, exercises and practices, and staffing. The limits of this mandate are determined by the application of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and judicial decisions. The Charter does not prohibit discrimination by churches, associations and businesses. Section 2 of the Charter protects freedom of religion and section 93 of the Constitution recognizes the right to denominational schools.
The Halton Catholic school board is right.
Unlike secular public schools that make no mention of God in their curriculum, Catholic schools offer a God-centered philosophy that aims to protect the Christian values and beliefs of its student. Every faculty member of a Catholic school is committed to upholding the core values and statement of Christian faith. The emphasis placed on external discipline in Catholic schools attempts to foster self-discipline. Catholic schools seek to develop the Christ-like person. Being Christ-like requires students to accept responsibility for their actions and to respect others. The rules established in Catholic schools foster growth in the value of self-responsibility. To be involved in drugs, alcohol, violence and homosexuality is to be anti-Christ. Catholic schools seek to be "Christ-centered Zones." These attitudes hopefully will carry over into adult life so that the homes of Catholic school graduates will also be "Christ-centered Homes."
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