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Religious rights take priority over ‘other rights’: TCDSB

'Gay is not a lifestyle consistent with the Catholic church': delegate

Members of Catholic Students for GSAs wait for their turn to speak. Credit: Andrea Houston

UPDATE: Sept 8 –  Since the Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) meeting Aug 31, many religious groups have reacted with vitriol in blogs and in print to the decision to reject anti-gay amendments to the board’s equity policy.

Faye Sonier, legal counsel for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, slammed the board in her blog Sept 6, saying its equity policy, mandatory as part of the Ontario government’s equity and inclusive education strategy, has sparked parents to mobilize and fight back “over fears that it will give homosexual activists a foothold in order to further subvert already weak Catholic sexual teaching in the schools,” LifeSite news reports.

Sonier says the policy stands in direct conflict with the Vatican because it recognizes sexual orientation as grounds for discrimination, comparable to race and ethnic background. “Unlike these, homosexual orientation is an objective disorder and evokes moral concern,” she says.

Evangelical minister Royal Hamel also published a Sept 2 column in the Guelph Mercury. In the column he applauds Catholic parents for pushing back to “defend Catholicism” in schools.    

Sept 1 – Trustees at a Toronto Catholic District School Board meeting decided to put denominational rights above human rights and tried to make a direct attack on gay-straight alliances.

The Aug 31 meeting was the final debate on the TCDSB’s equity and inclusive education policy, which has already passed. More than 100 people packed the gallery for the fiery meeting; in the majority were a vocal contingent of people objecting to homosexuality being taught in any way in Catholic schools, including within the context of bullying prevention and peer support.

“Denominational rights are the first priority,” trustee John Del Grande repeated several times.

Before the meeting started, Queer Ontario’s Casey Oraa told Xtra that the board had refused to allow GSA activist Leanne Iskander and members of Catholic Students for GSAs to speak, even though the group filled out a form ahead of the meeting.

Oraa says it seems that the board stacked the list of 10 delegations with nine that were pro-Catholic, allowing only one space for anyone to speak in favour of the policy.

When it was Oraa’s turn to speak, he graciously bowed out, offering his spot to the students and saying the board should really start listening to what students are saying.

“I have been watching. They gave Leanne and the students exactly three minutes to speak. Everyone else got much longer,” he said.

Emmy Milne, communications manager for the TCDSB, says each of the 10 delegates were permitted to speak for three minutes, reduced from the usual five.

Those who did speak objected to the equity policy in total, claiming it is just another way that “the homosexual agenda is normalizing a lifestyle choice.”

Student Kayla Martin called it an attack on Catholicism.

“Is the act of homosexuality something we support as Catholics?” Martin asked the board. “The answer is simply no.”

Meanwhile, anti-gay screams and shouts echoed from the gallery.

The most controversial amendment, which would have blocked students from forming GSAs, was defeated. The amendment would have ensured the board only approve school clubs that “are consistent with Catholic faith and moral teaching on marriage and sexuality.”

Delegate Anna Lukowski says being gay is not a “lifestyle consistent with the Catholic church. The board should only have goals that are consistent with Catholic faith and doctrinal rights.”

The battle for GSAs began in January when the Halton Catholic District School Board banned the groups, which are stipulated as requirements by the Ministry of Education in its equity policy.

Roman Catholic schools have repeatedly denied students’ requests for GSAs, saying supports are already in place and church doctrine condemns gay sex as “sinful and immoral.” One example of the “supports” given to gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans students is the community group Courage International, an organization that claims to “cure gays.”

In March, members of the GSA at Mississauga’s St Joseph Catholic Secondary School were blocked from forming any group with the word “gay” in the title.

Then, this summer, a letter from a priest representing Toronto’s Coptic Christian community threatened to pull thousands of students from TCDSB classrooms if homosexuality is taught in schools in any way.