Ontario Education Minister Leona Dombrowsky attended a GSA fundraiser on May 17, part of celebrations in recognition of International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Below is an unedited transcript of the full interview between Xtra‘s Marcus McCann and Dombrowsky.
Xtra: So, Catholic GSAs, you were saying?
Dombrowsky: Well actually, what we support in our legislation is that students in every school in Ontario deserve to be supported. English, Catholic, French…
The legislation is very clear, and I think most Ontarians are proud of it.
How come it’s not being enforced in Catholic schools?
Well actually, I do believe that it has… I am aware that there are Catholic schools in Ontario that are providing support groups, and I’m also aware that right now, as we speak, there is an effort underway, with partners in Catholic education, to make sure that in every Catholic school there’s a framework that addresses the need to ensure that all students are supported.
What do you think of the Catholic GSA at St Joseph’s? They’ve been denied. They’re not allowed to have a gay-straight alliance.
I think I saw them on the way in. Yes, I think what’s important is that the school board ensure that there is a group that will support the needs of those students, and that’s what our legislation has made very clear.
So is it okay to deny them a gay-straight alliance in name?
We’re saying that students must be supported. And it’s not okay that students who would say that they have a need to be supported, that that would be there.
So, should they be allowed to have a gay-straight alliance?
Actually, we’ve made it very clear that any student in any school in Ontario has the right to have that kind of support at their school.
Are you going to enforce that at St Joseph’s school in Mississauga?
We haven’t said to any school board that it must look like this. And we haven’t said that on a range of supports. We really do think it’s important that the school community decide what they want. That is why I am encouraged that the Catholic community is coming together with teachers, with students, with families, to determine what that framework will be. You know, we’re working on building capacity. This is new legislation for us.
And it’s tough…
So we’re taking the time — we think that when we bring people together and have them talk about why this is important, then good things will come of that. And it’s part of the process of building that capacity in the province of Ontario.
The Ontario Catholic bishops, their Pastoral Guidelines say that gays are intrinsically disordered and that gays are called to a life of chastity. That’s what the Catholic bishops say has to be taught in Catholic schools. So, does that breach the equity policy?
I’m not sure that’s what’s being taught.
You’ve got to look at the Pastoral Guidelines. They’re very clear.
I’m a Catholic, so I’m a little bit familiar with what the Church teaches. I think if you look at our physical and health education program, I think they’re pretty consistent with what’s in all of our schools. What I think is important is that 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.
Do you believe that gays are intrinsically disordered?
No, I do not. Absolutely not.
Are gays called to live a life of chastity?
You know, what the bishops say, it’s a very considered opinion. You’re asking me personally, and I’ve shared with you how I feel about that.
And are gays called to a life of chastity, then?
[pause] You know that as a Roman Catholic, I believe that before people get married, that that is an appropriate relationship.
And after gays get married?
Are we talking about the curriculum now?
We’re talking about your opinion. You were the head of two Catholic school boards, or their trustees—
I’m the head of the Ministry of Education—
Yes. But before you came to the Ministry, in a previous career you were the head of two Catholic school boards, or their boards of trustees, right? So does that affect your ability to make choices on this matter?
I don’t believe so. I’m also a mother of four children. I believe that the record would show that I’ve always been focused on making sure that all students get the support that they need.
Are you prepared to tell the kids who are trying to form a gay-straight alliance, that have been told they can’t — are you prepared to tell them that they can’t have a gay-straight alliance?
I’m prepared to talk to the students, but I’m not going to tell you what I’m going to tell them, okay? I think that’s fair.
Are we going to see any movement before the election?
I think we have already.
They’re not allowed to form a gay-straight alliance.
But when I said that we’re building capacity, what I’m saying is that we’re moving in a direction. We have a lot of people at a table, with an abundance of goodwill, and there has not been an outcome from that. I remain very hopeful.
You’ve been dodging Xtra’s calls for four months. Why was that?
I’m here today. And I’m happy to talk to you. It’s really great to talk to you. And I’m going to go over there, because I think they want to get things underway. It’s been a pleasure talking to you today. It’s been really very good.
Okay. I appreciate your time.
I appreciate yours.