Wedged between high school students and Egale Canada donors, Ontario Minister of Education Leona Dombrowsky took in a breakfast to mark the International Day Against Homophobia.
The early-morning event, organized by Egale, was a fundraiser for My GSA, a program that supports students who are part of gay-straight alliances or who want to start one.
Dombrowsky has been dodging questions about GSAs in Ontario’s publicly funded Catholic school system since news broke that the Halton Catholic District School Board had banned them. Since then, trustees have partially lifted the ban, but students are still forbidden from calling their clubs gay-straight alliances.
“What’s important is that the school board ensure that there is a group that will support the needs of those students,” says Dombrowsky in an interview with Xtra at the event. “It’s important that the school community decide what they want.”
But Dombrowsky remains evasive about whether students at St Joseph’s Catholic Secondary School in Mississauga should be allowed to have a club with the word gay in its title.
“We’ve said, ‘Every student deserves to be supported,’ not ‘It must be done in this way.’ But we’ve made it very clear that it’s not an option, that it must be in our schools,” she says.
After Dombrowsky addressed the breakfast, James Ryan, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association (OECTA), spoke. In a tacit rebuke of Dombrowsky, Ryan did not mince words.
“The members that I represent are absolutely committed to all our students, including gay, lesbian, bi and trans students,” he said. “My association and our members have no problem with gay-straight alliances.”
Other union leaders piled on. Sid Ryan, president of the Ontario Federation of Labour, thanked OECTA for taking a stand on the issue of Catholic GSAs.
“I want to acknowledge the Catholic teachers. It’s really brave of them to get behind gay-straight alliances,” he said.
Fred Hahn, the openly gay president of CUPE Ontario, a major financial backer of Egale’s GSA work, added that non-teaching staff (secretaries and maintence personnel) at high schools also support GSAs.
The event featured Jordan Todosey, who plays trans high schooler Adam Torres on Degrassi: The Next Generation, and Mike Grassi, one of the show’s writers.
The audience was a mix of students, teachers and Egale donors. At the head tables were a number of politicians, including Dombrowsky, Liberal MPP Yasir Naqvi, former health minister George Smitherman, and city councillors Janet Davis, Shelley Carroll and Kristyn Wong-Tam. Halton Catholic trustee Paul Marai was also on hand.
Click here for a full transcript of the interview between Xtra's Marcus McCann and Dombrowsky.