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Ontario Catholic trustee fails in bid to support GSAs

'It's clear that GSAs are not something the trustees are interested in'

Waterloo Catholic school trustee Anthony Piscitelli says there is not enough support among his fellow trustees for the motion to pass. Credit: Courtesy photo

A Waterloo Catholic school trustee who planned to submit a motion to allow gay-straight alliances (GSAs) at area schools withdrew the motion at the last minute, stating there is not enough support for it to pass.

Just before an April 30 Waterloo Catholic District School Board meeting, trustee Anthony Piscitelli said board chair Manuel da Silva had asked him to withdraw the motion.

“After speaking to my fellow trustees it became very clear to me there wasn’t enough support to pass the motion,” he said. “I wanted the debate to be centred around helping the kids.”

Da Silva did not respond to Xtra‘s request for comment.

Piscitelli says he is “disappointed” because research on the benefits of GSAs has been overwhelmingly positive. He says he hoped his motion would start a dialogue about how Catholic schools can best help lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans students. “But it’s clear that GSAs are not something the trustees are interested in.”

“I wanted the debate to centre around how to best help the kids. It’s clear to me that GSAs don’t have enough support right now from my fellow trustees, so unless that changes, I don’t see value in bringing the motion forward.”

GSAs have become a lightning-rod issue in many Catholic schools, and Xtra revealed last year that these student support groups have been prohibited by many Catholic administrators. Since then, students in Catholic schools across Ontario have requested GSAs and repeatedly been denied.

In January 2012, the Ontario Catholic School Trustees Association (OCSTA) released its “Respecting Difference” guidelines, which is the response by Catholic bishops to these repeated student demands. The guidelines allow students to set up general anti-bullying groups — but under no circumstance can they be called GSAs, Nancy Kirby, president of the OCSTA, has said.

“If it was up to me, I’d like to see the kids call the clubs whatever they want to call them,” Piscitelli says, noting he is acutely aware that queer students face discrimination, bullying and are at risk of depression and suicide. “Whether GSAs come back to the board table, I don’t know. This is an issue I plan to continue to quietly raise with my fellow trustees.”