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Toronto-area Catholic school board closer to passing inclusive LGBT policy

Oakville trustee encouraged by support from parents, teachers and staff

St Benedict Catholic Elementary School, located in Milton, is one of the schools under the Halton Catholic District School Board.  Credit: Larry Arbuckle/YouTube

A Toronto-area Catholic school board is one step closer to passing a progressive discipline policy that is inclusive of LGBT people.

In May 2016, the Halton Catholic District School Board voted 4-3 to reject a policy that denounced homophobia and advocated inclusivity for queer and trans students.

But on June 14, the policy committee voted 5-4 to once again send the policy back to the board of trustees to be approved.

“I find it breathtaking that trustees think they can opt out of established human rights,” says Oakville trustee Paul Marai. “They are filibustering the inevitable.”

The Ontario Ministry of Education has expressed concern over the board’s actions.

Four trustees — Anthony Quinn, Susan Trites, Helena Karabela and Anthony Danko — have opposed the policy because they believe that it goes against Catholic teaching. Quinn, Trites and Karabela have not responded to repeated requests for comment over the past month. Quinn’s Twitter account has also blocked a Daily Xtra reporter.

Danko, who could not be reached for comment for this article, told Daily Xtra in May that he rejected the policy because he wanted more time to review it.

However, Marai says that during the policy committee meeting, those trustees opposed weren’t interested in having a discussion.

“They felt the entire thing was out of order because the board had already defeated it,” he says. “We had very little discussion.”

Marai points out that two of the trustees, Trites and Karabela, voted to approve the policy the first time it went through the policy committee.

Marai expressed frustration at the opposition to a policy that is meant to keep students safe.

“I think that some individuals need to get with the times and need to understand what effect this actually has on students,” he says.

However, he’s encouraged by the outward displays of support he’s gotten from parents, students, teachers and staff. Marai says that what he’s hearing from the public is remarkably different from the fights in 2011 over gay-straight alliances.

“It’s night and day from 2011 when we had those fights,” he says. “I feel like the community understands that much more. I feel like multiple groups have been educating themselves.”

Marai says that he’s only received one email opposing an LGBT-inclusive policy.

“I had one email from an individual at the very beginning who did not have very nice things to say about the policy nor me as an LGBT individual,” he says. “But it’s very clear that there’s still hatred that permeates much of our society. And my role is to protect students.”

The board will have one final opportunity to pass the policy on June 21, the last board meeting of the school year.