A line has been drawn in the sand between Catholic teachers and Catholic trustees.
On Feb 1, Kevin O’Dwyer, president of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA), wrote a letter to the Toronto Star in an attempt to distance Catholic teachers from the “Respecting Differences” guidelines, released by the Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association (OCSTA) in January.
The guidelines represent what Catholic trustees expect to be used in schools when students ask for a gay-straight alliance (GSA).
O’Dwyer, who did not respond to Xtra’s interview requests, says teachers do not support the new guidelines.
“The document is not reflective of any views or input from the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA), which represents the 45,000 elementary and secondary teachers who work in Ontario’s publicly funded Catholic schools.
“OECTA has stated its support for gay-straight alliances (GSAs) and other student-led anti-homophobia groups. OECTA teacher members are in schools every day working with students championing efforts to make our schools more respectful and welcoming places for everyone. They are supporting students, including LGBT students, who are struggling with the consequences of schools that are not safe and accepting.
“Our faith teaches us to treat everyone equitably and with dignity. We teach students to embrace and promote our common humanity.”
Catholic teachers are encouraging wide support of Bill 13, the provincial Liberals’ Accepting Schools Act, legislation that is moving through Queen’s Park that would make supports for queer youth mandatory. It is currently heading to second reading.
Education Minister Laurel Broten has insisted that Catholic schools must allow “single-issue LGBT clubs, like GSAs.” But Bill 13 provides Catholic boards a loophole by allowing them to pick the name of the groups. “Gay-straight alliance ‘or another name.'”
On Feb 4, Kirby told the Toronto Sun, “As long as those last three words (or another name) remain there, I don’t have a problem with it.”
Xtra has tried numerous times to reach OCSTA president Nancy Kirby, but no calls were returned.
In past interviews Kirby has told Xtra unequivocally that GSAs will never be allowed in Catholic schools because they are “too controversial” and the clubs promote “activism.”
“This is about helping kids feel safe against bullying, not as advocacy for a lifestyle,” Kirby said to the Toronto Star Jan 25.
“We won’t be promoting a lifestyle because with our students who are all minors, we’re teaching about chastity. Chastity is taught to all students whether they’re gay or straight and the mandate of the gay-straight alliance is different from the mandate of our ‘Respecting Differences’ group,” she told the National Post.
The word gay does not appear in the “Respecting Differences” guidelines. The guidelines point to the Catholic catechism, which states that gay people are intrinsically disordered, morally depraved and sinful.
At the launch of the Accepting Schools Act, Premier Dalton McGuinty promised to say the word gay a lot. “I fully expect that Catholic kids are going to use the word gay,” he said. “I fully expect that Catholic teachers are going to use the word gay, and as a Catholic premier of Ontario, I’m going to be talking about gay kids.”