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Toronto Catholic board to debate whether religion trumps rights of gay students

The fiery meeting begins at 7pm at the TCDSB offices in North York

Claire Purdy, 16, a student at St Joseph's College School in Toronto, says she plans to be at the meeting. Credit: Courtesy of Purdy's Facebook

Parents, church groups, students and members of the public are expected to pack the boardroom for a heated Toronto Catholic District School Board (TCDSB) meeting Aug 31.

The gathering is the final debate on the board’s equity and inclusive education policy, which has already passed. It is expected that the meeting will be attended by 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.

Trustees will vote on amendments that aim to tighten the policy to put an “emphasis on Catholic faith and the Catholic Church’s moral and doctrinal teachings.”

One amendment reads, “Where there is an apparent conflict between the [ministry’s policy] and the denominational aspect of Catholic schools, the protection of the denominational aspect takes precedence.”

The meeting takes place at the TCDSB offices at 80 Sheppard Ave at 7pm. No one from the board could be reached for comment.

Clair Purdy, 16, a student at St Joseph’s College School in Toronto, says she plans to be at the meeting. Purdy, along with approximately 20 other students, is putting together a proposal to start a gay-straight alliance (GSA) at her school. The Grade 11 student says she is very interested to hear whether trustees at the TCDSB will support her proposal and all queer students.

Purdy says a GSA is needed at her school because many students still experience anti-gay bullying and are victimized regularly for being gay.

“We have already started talking to teachers and the principal about it, and we’ll start talking about it again when school starts,” she tells Xtra. “I plan to do all I can to support GSAs.”

“I want to see GSAs in every school: public, Catholic, private, whatever,” she says assertively. “Students should be able to call groups whatever they want. It must be up to the students.”

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.

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