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EGALE Canada: Catholic GSAs in Ontario exist

Rights org behind mygsa.ca can't provide single GSA

Helen Kennedy. Credit: Marcus McCann

Helen Kennedy, executive director of Egale Canada, says there are definitely “gay-straight alliances” at Catholic schools in Ontario.

Last May Egale launched mygsa.ca, a national resource for students, educators and parents looking to make their “school environments safer and more inclusive, respectful and welcoming spaces for LGBTQ youth.” The site includes a directory of GSAs across the country.

Kennedy shrugs off the absence of any Ontario Catholic school GSAs on mygsa.ca as the consequence of an unfinished list.

“For example there are more in New Brunswick than are listed. It’s not an extensive list,” she explains.

Asked to provide evidence of a single GSA at a Catholic school, Kennedy is unable to do so. She suggests contacting the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA), “who I’m sure will provide you with a list.”

Michelle Despault, director of communications for OECTA, couldn’t provide us with a single GSA in a Catholic school in Ontario.

“We do not collect or have information on clubs that operate in schools,” read an email from the organization in response to our request. James Ryan, president of OECTA, refused to speak to Xtra on the issue.

Xtra’s investigation into Catholic GSAs in Ontario has since revealed not a single Ontario Catholic School board reports having – or allowing – a “gay-straight alliance,” as a club with this name would conflict with Catholic bishops’ directives on homosexuality.

On the mygsa.ca site, the definition of a GSA reads: “Many student groups opt not to use this name, however, because the word ‘gay’ is not as inclusive as they would like.” No mention is made of the Catholic bishops’ prohibition.

Back in 2003, during the height of the debate on same-sex marriage in Canada, Egale called the “civil unions” compromise an “offensive and unworkable” substitute for equal marriage. So why is the organization that built an entire gay-rights argument around language now capitulating to Catholic bishops on GSAs?

“Quite frankly, it’s not for me to ram anything down anyone’s neck in any school board,” says Kennedy. “If the students want to call the club a rainbow club, or whatever is best for the climate in their school, and there are clubs in public schools called rainbow clubs.

“I think it’s up to the student body whether they should have ‘gay’ in the title. There are some with ‘rainbow.’ It’s whatever the students want to call it. What we do is provide resources for the student body and the teachers to make their schools inclusive, and it’s really up to the individual groups to call them whatever they want.”