Julien McArdle has spent the last month collecting signatures for a petition urging the Ottawa Catholic School Board (OCSB) to lift a ban on GSAs. In a few short weeks he has collected more than 400 names, and they are still trickling in.
McArdle’s campaign has caught the OCSB’s attention – but spokespeople insist the board does not have a policy banning GSAs.
Mardi de Kemp, the OCSB’s communications officer, spoke with Xtra by phone. When asked if GSAs are allowed, de Kemp was consistent in her reply.
“We don’t have a policy banning them,” she says.
De Kemp is insistent that OCSB schools have clubs that handle equity and diversity. She says all clubs operate at the discretion of the schools’ principals.
“We have all different multicultural and clubs around inclusion and equity and all kinds of things, so I think that the specific principal would have to be given the opportunity to assess what the club’s about and whether it meets the students’ needs,” she says.
McArdle received a similar line of reasoning in an email from Tom D’Amico, superintendent of the OCSB.
“We ensure that there are multiple opportunities for all students to be proud of their identity and their uniqueness, whether this be based on gender, academic ability, ethnic origin, physical characteristics or any other differentiating characteristic,” he writes.
D’Amico says the board is against bullying and that “sexual orientation is just one characteristic that some youth focus on when it comes to bullying.” He states that the schools have anti-bullying policies and are committed to following them.
McArdle acknowledges the OCSB has programs that combat bullying but says they fall short in providing a safe space for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.
“It’s a contradictory concept. They [OSCB] are for programs that combat bullying, even if these programs extend to gay students. What they have problems with is anything that would be supportive of a student’s identity whereby a student would be comfortable with the concept that being gay is okay,” he says. “It’s that ‘Love the sinner, hate the sin’ kind of mentality.”
In an email to D’Amico, McArdle asked whether a student can start a club called a “gay straight alliance” in an Ottawa Catholic school.
The answer was a categorical “no.” So until GSAs are allowed in the schools, McArdle will continue his online petition.